Author examines experiences of psychiatric drugs
After taking Prozac as a teenager, journalist Kaitlin Barnett said she became more involved in life and no longer felt like everything was a struggle.
“I had all kinds of energy, I was more social ... finding that one pill and bam all my problems were fixed,” said Barnett, who was motivated from her own experience to research how people felt after taking psychiatric medication.
A Byrne Seminar for first-year students and the School of Social Work Doctoral Program co-hosted a lecture in which Barnett spoke about her book, “Dosed: The Medication Generation Grows Up,” yesterday at Murray Hall on the College Avenue campus.
Jerry Floersch, associate professor in the School of Social Work, said while teaching a Byrne seminar called “Growing Up on Psychiatric Medication,” he and his students decided to invite Barnett to speak on the controversies that surround psychiatric medication use.
He said taking medication is an interpretative act because each individual comes up with their own story to explain why they take the medication.
While patients know their medications affect their bodies, they can only feel their medications working.
“We have no direct observation of what the chemicals do on our body,” he said.
Barnett said children and young adults begin taking medication for ADHD, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder when they do not know what the long-term effects are.
This question motivated Barnett to research experiences people had after taking the medication on a qualitative level of analysis, she said.
Through interviewing several dozen people in their 20s and 30s from around the country, Barnett said she tried to figure out the experiences of the subject from the time he or she started taking the psychiatric medication to how each one is affected today.
“It was important to really tell [the] contours of their experience. But since I didn’t have the luxury of following them since they were 10 years old, I had to reconstruct their stories,” she said.
The method Barnett used is flawed, she said, because people’s memories are distorted.
“We don’t always remember things perfectly, and the way that we see the past is colored by our experience in the present,” she said.
She found some individuals were doing better, some struggled, and others quit taking the medication because they felt like they did not need it anymore.
“You can see how depending on their experiences today they might be looking back at their experience a little bit differently,” she said.
Barnett said people have hindsight when looking back on their experiences.
“They have a little more maturity ... they’re a little further away from their childhood experience and more stable,” she said.
This could be a controversial topic for those who do not take medication, Barnett said, because they do not know whether or not it is a good idea.
Barnett said there is a lot of controversy surrounding medication for disorders like ADHD because people interpret it as though the individual is forced to behave in conjunction with societal norms.
People tend to make jokes about people with ADHD, in which it is rare to have a deep conversation with a friend about taking medication, she said.
Barnett thinks it is important to involve the child or young adult in the treatment process and explain why they are taking the medication instead of prescribing it without them understanding the drug’s implication, she said.
“It’s really important for kids not to get the message that they’re taking medication because they did something bad ... and that the pills are supposed to fix them in some way.”
Barnett said there is a presumption in society that young adults take medication unquestionably. She found that people do have sophisticated responses after taking medication like Xanax.
“It’s a pretty widespread phenomenon that we don’t speak about in a meaningful way,” she said.
Dorias Heber, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore who worries about her brother taking medication, said it could be difficult for people to think about the long-term side effects of medication without really knowing what those might involve.
“I learned that it’s okay to take medication, and it’s okay to be hesitant about it,” she said.
Sikandar Hayat, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said he did not realize that people were being prescribed medication without really knowing much about the drug.
“Some kids could be taking three or four drugs at the same time, and they don’t really know how it affects their bodies,” he said.