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Prozac Nation Essay

Elizabeth Wurtzel, both the author and protagonist in the autobiographical novel, “Prozac Nation” suffers from a case of major depression and possibly bipolar II disorder which has hypomania. Wurtzel outlines years of depression as well as self-destructive activities while “up” including risky sex and drug use, which could be consistent with bipolar II hypomania (DSM-IV Criteria for Hypomanic Episode. ) Wurtzel’s symptoms are almost textbook-classic and go along with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th edition (DSM-IV) criteria.

She expresses her debilitating depression and hopelessness in poetic language, such as follows: “But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key. ” This fits the symptoms of major depression such as feelings of worthlessness, diminished pleasure, and loss of energy (DSM-IV Criteria for Major Depressive Episode. ) But in between these heavy spells of depression, the risk-taking behavior with sex and drugs make it seem like Wurtzel could be an undiagnosed bipolar II (DSM-IV Criteria Bipolar II Disorder) rather than her formal diagnosis of atypical depression.

She further inadvertently diagnoses herself as possibly bipolar during the “Drinking in Dallas” chapter where she notes that she writes much more than usual. This could be a combination of creativity and a hypomanic mood swing. At times, Wurtzel as a character can be rather tiresome, and it is likely not just a result of her illness’ natural self-pitying behavior coupled with a sense of almost invincibility. One is left to wonder if this character is completely authentic, or played up by some unknown book editor to sell more prescriptions of Prozac to other white women of privilege.

However, there are many moments where she seems more authentic and aware of her condition, like when she compares depression to cancer. Both diseases can be treated with modern medical science, and don’t just suddenly show up on day. They were both growing within the body, and then one day something happens to make them diagnosable. Wurtzel explains in her poetic voice that depression has nothing at all to do with life, which seems true. Depression, like cancer or any other illness, works to destroy and even kill.

As the afflicted suffers, so do the people around him or her. Relationships are strained and even broken, and not every patient makes it out alive. The victory of “Prozac Nation” is Wurtzel does make it out alive, a victory which makes any self-pitying behavior in the work forgivable and renders the literature still of great value to the general public. “Prozac Nation” also offers validation that depression is a serious, but treatable mental illness that renders its sufferers like the walking dead.

People such as Wurtzel can be just existing when in their depressive shell, and not really living. No matter how successful she was, no matter how popular she was, and no matter how loved she was, Wurtzel did not just have a bad case of the “blues” that could be easily shaken off without treatment. This could serve as an educational piece to those misguided few who still believe depression and other mental illnesses are entirely an issue of not having enough in life and something that can easily be “forgotten” without proper medical intervention.

Prozac is still controversial even seven years after the book’s initial publication, and Wurtzel took a long time to actually get into psychiatric drugs as a form of treatment. While the debate over whether Prozac makes people “better off” or “better” will always rage on, Wurtzel’s life shows that at least some segment of the population benefits from the fairly safe psychiatric drug, and that should be remembered when Scientologists and other naysayers try to condemn such pharmaceuticals.

Prozac may well have saved Wurtzel’s life, and at the very least saved her and her loved ones unneeded heartache, which in itself was long overdue. Fortunately, Prozac itself is affordable and available to even the poorest of populations – yet getting the actual prescription itself can still be a difficult and expensive process to those who are not fortunate enough to have the financial resources, marketable talents, and privileged upbringing Wurtzel enjoyed.

No matter what Wurtzel’s actual condition is or whether or not she continues to take Prozac to treat it, “Prozac Nation” offers an in-depth look at modern mental illness. Past works such as Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” or Susanna Kaysen’s “Girl, Interrupted” have some sense of being dated, in its talks of mid-20th century mental asylums and electroshock therapy. The experiences of any mental illness remain the same, but the treatments and awareness do change over time.

Wurtzel is like the protagonists of those similar autobiographical novels: privileged, intelligent, Caucasian, and female. Yet, her stark honesty, though more common nowadays than when other major works about depression were written, rings ageless even if some of it could be possibly for the benefit of public attention as some critics have claimed. There is no doubt Wurtzel has profited from publicizing her illness, yet it seems more likely she would have rather not gone through any of her mental problems at all than to get a serious case of depression just to make a little more money.

Books such as “Prozac Nation” show mental illness as truly devastating, non-discriminating, and fully treatable with patience and the right medication and therapy. Unfortunately, “Prozac Nation” and books like it seem to bring the most hope for a reprieve to white females of privilege and intelligence, and one is left to wonder how much this may or may not change in the future of mental health care. At the very least, the drug Prozac has become more of a household word with books such as “Prozac Nation,” and that in itself may help.

References: DSM-IV Criteria Bipolar II Disorder. (2008). Retrieved March 26, 2009 from Biological Unhappiness: http://www. biologicalunhappiness. com/Bipolar2. htm. DSM-IV Criteria for Hypomanic Episode. (2008). Retrieved March 26, 2009 from Biological Unhappiness: http://www. biologicalunhappiness. com/Hypomani. htm. DSM-IV Criteria for Major Depressive Episode. (2008). Retrieved March 26, 2009 from Biological Unhappiness: http://www. biologicalunhappiness. com/dsmdpres. htm.


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