'Antipsychotic drugs made me want to kill myself'
Published: 6th May 2012 02:14:20
While antipsychotic drugs are seen as the most effective treatment of psychotic episodes, they are also recognised to have devastating side effects.
Doctors say many patients don't like taking medication long term, but a study published in the Lancet suggests that taking antipsychotic medication more than halves the risk of relapse in schizophrenic patients.
"I used to see nasty, dirty rat-like things running around when I went outside, I could see people in the streets screaming abuse at me and making obscene and threatening gestures.
"I was hearing a voice that was saying all kinds of nasty things about me. I was terrified, I tried to kill myself."
David Strange was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 25. He was sectioned and given antipsychotic drugs, which he says made him feel "a bit better for a while," but gave him a succession of unpleasant side effects.
When I first became ill, I was warned there are certain drugs that weaken the lower lip, even now I still dribble”
But without medication, the voice he hears is a constant stream of abuse that "comments on what other people are thinking and the horrible things they want to do to me".
Professor of psychiatry Stefan Leucht, from the Technische Universitat in Munich, led the latest research. He also found that fewer patients on antipsychotic drugs were readmitted to hospital - one of the highest costs associated with mental illnesses.
David says taking antipsychotic drugs for 14 years has helped him deal with his hallucinations and the voices he hears. They are still present but they no longer dominate his life.
Source: Royal College of Psychiatrists
One of the many drugs he was given was thioridazine, which gave him an irregular heartbeat, something which can be potentially fatal. David remembers lying down with his heart beating really fast, thinking he did not have long left to live.
"Some drugs made me so anxious I tried to kill myself and ended up getting locked up in hospital."
Even what he refers to as the "good ones" give him muscle and joint pain, jerkiness similar to the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease and severe sexual dysfunction.
But he says he would still rather take the drugs than try and function without them.
"Being unmedicated is an unliveable hell. I'm happy to put up with all of this just to be more functional and less scared."
The longer antipsychotic drugs are taken, the more chronic the side effects become. The nature of mental illness means patients are often prescribed medication for the rest of their lives.
Daniel Levy, aged 54, has bipolar disorder and has been taking antipsychotic drugs for nearly 30 years. During that time he has been sectioned and has also attempted suicide.
"The drug chlorpromazine made me tremble, it also made me dribble. When I first became ill I was warned there are certain drugs that weaken the lower lip, even now I still dribble.
"I don't know I'm doing it until I notice it on my clothes. It looks absolutely terrible."
But the drug did help him to stay out of hospital and was effective in controlling his symptoms.
"The side effects are the price I pay for keeping out of hospital," says Daniel.
"It's a balancing act - doctors never know in advance how you will react to a particular drug."
Newer "atypical" antipsychotic drugs show fewer of the physical tremor-inducing side effects and are commonly prescribed to patients starting treatment for the first time, says Dr Oliver Howes from the Institute of Psychiatry.
These still often lead to severe weight gain, increasing the risk of diabetes, blood clots and cardiovascular diseases. The risk is especially high for patients who stay on medication for many decades.
"We have no way of knowing in advance if a given drug is going to suit a patient - so sometimes patients have to try several before they find one that both helps them and is tolerable," says Dr Howes.
Unfortunately the drugs with the most side effects are also the ones which have been shown to be the most effective and are supported by many years of research, says Prof Leucht.
He says that if a patient experiences unpleasant side effects, their clinician should always try another drug, but acknowledges that this is not always possible in practice as some doctors are afraid to change their patient's medication if it appears to be working well.
Dr Howes says the side effects of antipsychotics need to be put into perspective.
"Mental health illnesses are devastating. There is a substantial loss of life associated with illnesses such as schizophrenia, predominantly from suicide. We want to prevent that."
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Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. 'Antipsychotic drugs made me want to kill myself' [Online] (Updated 6th May 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1426789/Antipsychotic-drugs-made-me-want-to-kill-myself [Accessed 24th Apr 2014]
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With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
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