Hands Off My Antidepressants, You Sadists

Following the Highland Park shooting earlier this month, the right’s moral panic has found a renewed target in SSRIs.

Hands Off My Antidepressants, You Sadists
Photo:Carolina Miranda (Getty Images)

My certification as an emotional Pisces Sad Girl type has often been the subject of light mockery amongst friends, for good reason. The longest and most successful relationship I’ve ever been in is with my own despair.

Getting through the day, for me, is a lot like tip-toeing across a minefield, only to trip over an anthill, faceplant into several explosives, and then return to standing still very much on fire, croaking, “No worries!!!” with a toothy smile. I can suddenly become despondent over the thought of cows sentenced to die in service of global carnivorous consumption, or endure panic attacks set off by fully imagined conversations my nemeses may or may not be having about me. Some might call me crazy—I prefer “addled by the intergenerational trauma of a family of Holocaust survivors who thinks everyone is out to get her for good fucking reason.” Add a dash of total governmental failure in a health crisis, and you’ve got yourself one easy diagnosis: chronic anxiety and depression. A girl destined to dissociate, if you will.

At the instruction of a licensed psychiatrist, I clocked my first Zoloft prescription at the CVS down the street from my apartment in 2021. As it turns out, being medicated wasn’t a form of personality sedation, nor did it turn me into a whispered echo of a lost self. Being medicated saved my life.

Despite recent arguments that the side effects of antidepressants outweigh the benefits—many psychiatrists caution the possibility of decreased libido and the potential for heightened suicidal ideation, and for some, that is certainly true—SSRIs, or “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors,” are a lifeboat for people like me: those forever haunted by the ghosts of lives stolen by state-sponsored propagandists and by senseless gun violence.

Antidepressants gave me the energy to pick myself back up and fight. The Right already banned my reproductive options. Now, they want my SSRIs banned, too.

Over the last month, following the July 4th Highland Park shooting, conservatives seemed to have run out of culprits to blame for the ever-ballooning frequency of mass shootings—almost always carried out by young white men with seamless access to guns, products of a white supremacist and masculinity-poisoned America. So, they’ve pointed decisively at the side effects of antidepressants like Zoloft, Prozac, Lexapro, and Celexa, as if those drugs can turn a well-adjusted teenager into a violent shooter.

The day after the shooting, Fox News douchebag Tucker Carlson blamed the deaths at Highland Park on feminists, cannabis, social media, porn, video games, and antidepressants. Carlson added that “crackpots posing as ‘counselors’” are shoving “psychotropic drugs’’ down the throats of young Americans, causing “a lot of young men in America” to go “nuts.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) also tweeted following the tragedy: “When are we going to have an honest conversation about drug abuse, mental illness, and SSRI’s??? And deadly side effects. Are we really going to keep pretending? Or covering for Big Pharma? Because I’m absolutely done with the political plays on this BS.” (To date, there is no conclusive evidence that the alleged Highland Park shooter was prescribed SSRIs.) And earlier this month, Rolling Stone reported that a parent had gone viral for suggesting his 15-year-old son (which he later clarified to his “nephew”) had been prescribed antidepressants without parental consent, appealing to larger conservative talking points around mental illness and Big Pharma amplified by far right accounts like Libs of TikTok. Some commenters claimed antidepressant prescriptions were part of a larger conspiracy to immobilize kids, while one in particular called the drugs “MK Ultra grooming,” referring to a 1950s-1970s CIA program that tested drugs on citizens without their consent, according to Rolling Stone.

Just last week, a questionable and ill-timed study published in Nature proclaimed that SSRIs do not cure depression, despite the clinicians and researchers who told Vice they were “worried about the framing of the findings, which are being used to question the utility and efficacy of antidepressants.” Like clockwork, the study wormed its way into Carlson’s Monday night Fox News rant, claiming Prozac is “a drug that is supposed to make you less sad [but] may make it more likely that you will kill yourself” and citing a 2005 Tom Cruise rant as evidence that antidepressants are poisoning our minds. He even feigned concern over the threat of sexual dysfunction (“you may be impotent, infertile, violent”), as if Tucker Carlson ever gave a fuck about women’s sexual health to begin with.

But antidepressants do not make nonviolent patients suddenly violent and were never meant to “cure” depression, but to treat the symptoms of depression as a tool used in conjunction with therapy, according to mental health experts Rolling Stone spoke with. If it feels like conservatives are blindfolded shooting arrows into the night sky hoping they might happen upon a worthy explanation for the total undoing of American’s men, it’s because they are. The obsession with antidepressants is no different than the meritless panic over trans kids, “grooming,” critical race theory, and drag queens. The right’s war against SSRis is just another way they seek to oppress those who are not white, straight, cisgender, or sensible. And for women specifically, who are faced daily with a mudslide of disappearing rights, fighting to vilify antidepressants means declaring war on an integral coping tool.

In a rare morsel of truth, as Carlson mentioned in his segment, “These drugs mask the real problems…You’re suffering for a real reason that drugs can’t fix.” And he’s right: Drugs can’t fix the crumbling of our democracy. The problem isn’t that I don’t know who I am without Zoloft. The problem is that I know exactly who I am without Zoloft, and that person cannot function in an era of rapid disillusionment sanctioned by people like Carlson and Greene. This is the one medication keeping me afloat at a time when our rights are being stripped away at a shocking pace.

So until we have any kind of more perfect solution to depression and anxiety (from actual doctors and scientists, not right-wing conspiracy theorists), I’ll be here happily popping my pills. Hands off of my body, sadists.

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