Tag Archives: Depression

Did Lariam cause or worsen my depression?

Today I came across an article on the BBC News website, discussing the vivid hallucinatory dreams that one person experienced while taking Lariam tablets as a prevention against Malaria during a trip in Africa.

This got me thinking back to an African road trip I had done through Botswana and Zimbabwe way back in 1994. Like the article’s author, I took Lariam (the brand name for the drug Mefloquine) for a few weeks before, during and after my trip.

I didn’t (to the best of my memory) experience any vivid dreams, but I do remember a 2 day period during the trip when I felt extremely depressed and nervous. At the time I put it down to a bit of homesickness and after it had passed I forgot about it.

But the BBC article author’s experience with depression, paranoia and anxiety after his trip piqued my interest, and so I did a little googling. Guess what I found:

All these sources are agreed on two things:

  1. Lariam is proven to be a cause of depression and anxiety (among other equally serious issues such as psychosis and suicide ideation)
  2. The effects of Lariam can persist for months and even years after the patient stops taking it and may in some cases be permanent.

My own experiences of depression (apart from the brief episode while on my trip) started a year or two later, as far as I can recall. It wasn’t as if I woke up one day and suddenly found I was depressed – it crept up on me slowly and insidiously until there came a point where I realized that something was wrong.

My family doctor was not particularly helpful and simply prescribed a few weeks worth of tricyclic antidepressants, which had the effect of numbing my feelings, both positive and negative, and in the end I discontinued them, figuring that I would get over it in my own good time.

During the next few years I didn’t connect my state of mind with depression, though my drinking steadily increased and if I look back there’s absolutely no doubt that I was depressed. In 2005 I sought help from a counsellor at my family doctor’s clinic, and they suggested I attend some cognitive behavioural therapy sessions. I attended a few but wasn’t convinced by their conclusion – that I was suffering from low self-esteem.

In the end I had to stop the sessions due to my plans to emigrate to Malta finally bearing fruit.

And to cut a long story short, it wasn’t until 2009, in Malta, that I discussed my depression and alcohol abuse with an understanding doctor, got medication that actually helped, gave up drinking, and started 3 years of weekly counselling sessions that were ultimately my salvation.

Now, looking back on the various stages of my life, the places I was educated, the places I’ve worked, the towns I’ve lived in, and the state of mind that prevailed during each of those stages, I can see that before using Lariam I had some minor anxiety issues and the occasional brief bout of depression, whereas after that period my depression gradually grew until it effectively controlled my life for many years before I finally got the right kind of assistance and support.

Now, I will never be able to prove that taking that course of Lariam was directly responsible for my depression and anxiety over the last 20 years, but it certainly seems possible that taking Lariam could have been a factor in worsening my symptoms, even if it wasn’t the sole cause.

Now, thankfully, Lariam is hardly ever prescribed for malaria prevention – there are far better drugs available. But as far as I know it still isn’t actually banned worldwide. And if you’re ever advised to take it, I would seriously recommend that you refuse. It could change your life, permanently, in ways that you really, really don’t want.

And where does this leave me? Well, where I was before, I guess. I suffer from depression and anxiety, that’s a fact of my life that I can’t change. I keep both controlled reasonably well, most of the time, using medication and ways of coping learned during my counselling sessions.

Does the thought that my depression may have been prevented or lessened if I hadn’t taken Lariam make me angry? Well, yes, up to a point, but what’s the point in being angry at something in the past that you can’t go back and change? Being angry at things has always been one of my depressive symptoms and I can do without even more of it.

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Depression is not the same as being sad

It’s time to try and increase the frequency with which I post to this blog. Today’s post fits more into the “life” theme than religious or political comment…

I have a chemical imbalance in my brain. Not enough of one particular chemical is produced, and as a result my positive moods and feelings don’t last as long as they should (and would, in a “normal” person), whereas negative moods and feelings persist far longer and their intensity is magnified completely out of proportion to their significance.

I’m not absolutely certain, but I think I can say with some confidence that in my case this is an inherited condition, from which both my father and paternal grandmother suffered. That’s not true for everyone, and there can be many different causes.

This condition is, of course, called clinical depression. And it’s no joke.

Brain activity in a depressed person

Right now I’m slowly recovering from a short period of severe depression, and in the interests of science (and because it’s good to get it off my chest), I’m going to try and describe how the worst days felt.

One of the most intense feelings was one of isolation. And I mean total isolation. Though I was in a social situation, I felt that I was looking at the people around me through frosted glass – I could see them but they couldn’t affect me. I could hear what they were saying but none of it made any real sense to me. Someone could ask me to do something, and I might say yes, but I would have no real comprehension of what they were asking or what I should do. A fellow sufferer said to me recently that felt like what was going on around them wasn’t real, but instead was a foreign film with no subtitles.

Another feeling was the loss of any sense of past and future. All hopes, dreams, plans and achievements disappear from my consciousness and anything that happened more than a few minutes ago is blurred in my mind. Any present fears, however, remain.

Then there is the short term memory loss and mental impairment. I lose the ability to count (so that gym workouts, which are always helpful in general when I’m depressed, become a bit chaotic because I can’t remember how many of each exercise I’ve done). I forget what someone said to me within a few seconds, unless I reply straight away.

And finally there is the complete and overwhelming sadness – I mean the kind of sadness where you know you’re crying, you don’t really know why, but you simply can’t stop it. And it’s accompanied by a feeling of such wretchedness, guilt and worthlessness that it leaves you literally gasping for breath. This comes and goes for hours at a time over a period of several days.

As well as these core symptoms, for me there are also secondary symptoms. For a period of 4 or 5 days leading up to a severe depressive episode, my mood becomes gradually more and more irritable and irrationally intolerant, causing me to react harshly to other people and “act out” recklessly. Each depressive episode normally costs me €100+ in driving offences. I can do nothing about this, because by this time my brain is treating this mood as “normal” and won’t let me understand that I’m changing. It’s only once the anger gives way to the despair that something “clicks” and I suddenly realise I’m in the middle of another episode.

And all the while there is a constant headache and mild dizzyness or disorientation, which makes me slightly nauseated all the time. A bit like a migraine though not as intense. My appetite comes and goes, and although I sleep at night, I wake up either very early or miss the alarm completely.

I have no idea whether any of this will make sense to someone who does not suffer from depression, but I’m hoping that you can see how different it is from just “feeling down” or “getting the blues”.

The next time you encounter someone who tells you that they’re depressed and you’re tempted to say something like “cheer up” or “pull yourself together”, please try to understand that this is just about the worst thing you can do. A far more sympathetic option is just to say that you’re sorry to hear that, ask them whether they want company or to be left alone, and take it from there.

Originally posted on my blog ‘Reasoned Rants’

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