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Seroxat Archives - Evening Standard (London), Oct 11, 2005

Evening Standard (London), Oct 11, 2005

SUNDAY 14 February 1999 was the worst day of my life. The fact that it was Valentine's Day, I was eight months pregnant and had two sons to care for but no partner was the last thing on my mind. I was, in fact, out of my mind, or very nearly.

A fortnight earlier I'd had two panic attacks - terrifying enough, but it was soon to become clear that this was just a prelude. I was 42 and the baby's father, with whom I'd had an affair after splitting from my husband, had dumped me right at the start of my pregnancy. He'd told me to have an abortion but, later in the pregnancy, demanded that I hand the baby over to him at birth; he then threatened to have her taken away.

I had hoped everyone would share my joy at being unexpectedly pregnant but my parents were mortified; my husband hardly less so. My sons, aged 12 and 10, weren't happy because they loathed the baby's father, who had bullied them behind my back during the year he stayed with us. The situation was already far from ideal but it was about to get much worse.

After the second panic attack, my GP diagnosed depression and prescribed Seroxat, saying it would "lift my mood". In fact, I believe it was the catalyst that tipped me over the edge into a full- blown state of anxiety.

Two days after I started taking the drug, my stomach began churning with fear as dusk approached and I couldn't sleep. I found myself in the garden at 2am, shivering but unable to stay inside, terrified of - what? I had no idea.

It was freezing outside but my palms were sweating; my heart pounded so fast I could hardly breathe. Adrenaline shocks were hitting me every few seconds, so intense they were physically painful. Never having heard of anxiety as a clinical condition, I didn't know what was going on. Desperately frightened, I rushed back to the doctor and was given an extra-large dose of Valium to help me sleep that night. I was awake again after two hours.

After only five days of Seroxat the doctor told me to stop taking it, but it was too late. Every day the anxiety started earlier: soon it had taken over the whole day. I managed to go into the office once but spent most of the day pacing the streets. Finally, exhausted, I had to go home to look after the boys, as their father was working.

Over the next few days I tried every remedy I could think of: acupuncture, aromatherapy, yoga, reading the Bible.

When I requested counselling, the GP gave me a list of practitioners - all private, because the waiting-list for NHS counsellors was far too long to be of use to me. One local psychotherapist said his initial consultation fee was Pounds 55 and offered an appointment in three days. I needed help straight away, I told him. "Take deep breaths," he advised. The thought of a succession of Pounds 55 fees was enough in itself to make me take deep breaths.

I'd managed so far to look after the boys, cooking, washing and ironing, getting them ready for school. But on that Sunday morning the facade finally cracked.

With thoughts of suicide in my mind for the first time as the only means of ending the torment, I knew I had to get real help, not just drugs, and called my husband to ask him to look after the boys until further notice. They were scared and concerned for me but had been trying to play along - they'd even done their homework without being nagged!

Fighting back the tears, I tried to reassure them as I said goodbye.

My only choice now, I thought, was to check myself into the local mental hospital, Springfield in Tooting. I'd been there that week for an assessment and came away traumatised.

The patients I saw all appeared to be doped up: some slept on curtained-off beds while more were huddled, blankeyed, in chairs. Others paced around, muttering or occasionally yelling.

The consultant concluded that I didn't belong there, but on that Sunday I was forced to reconsider it as the only option that could prevent me from harming myself and my unborn child.

As soon as the boys had gone, I called the out-of-hours GP service to let them know what I was doing. A sympathetic doctor told me not to go to Springfield yet and faxed a prescription to the local chemist for beta-blockers, saying they would "calm things down" by slowing my heart rate.

But staying at home was still out of the question and I called Ruth, a newspaper colleague who had told me to phone if I needed anything. She invited me to stay with her that night, but she would be out during the day.

So I packed a bag and not knowing where else to go, headed for the office.

Unfazed, another work colleague, Stephen, invited me to have dinner with him and his girlfriend, whom I'd never met. No, he reassured me, she wouldn't mind at all that it was meant to be a Valentine's dinner. That morning-I wouldn't have been able to consider sitting still for more than a few minutes, but now the beta- blockers were kicking in. From dinner, I went to Ruth's. Together she and Stephen saved my life, and I don't use that phrase lightly.

They arranged for care in a private clinic under an eminent consultant, all paid for by my employer. And with a combination of old-fashioned tricyclic antidepressants, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - a form of counselling that replaces " unhelpful" negative beliefs with positive ones - rest, prayer and the love and support of my friends, I recovered in time for Imogen's birth. The boys' father brought them to the hospital and they bonded with their sister instantly. They are still besotted.

Imogen's low birthweight, 5lb 12oz, worried the doctors. There were other "pointers", too, that indicated an abnormality. At about six months she was diagnosed with velocardiofacial syndrome, a relatively common chromosome disorder which entails physical and mental developmental delays as well as heart and palate deficiencies.

A study last month found that babies of women who take Seroxat in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy are at a very high risk of heart and palate defects, although I'm assured Imogen's condition is a random occurrence, unrelated to any medication I'd taken.

Her hole in the heart was repaired when she was three. Now, even after two palate operations, her speech is still unclear but she is a sweet natured child and, despite her difficulties, outgoing and happy.

If I had taken my own life that Valentine's Day, I'm convinced Seroxat would have been to blame. Research in August linked the drug to an increase in suicide attempts in adults - it had already been banned for use by teenagers for the same reason - and I am now hoping to join a class action against the maker, GlaxoSmithKline.

A legal firm is collating compensation claims on behalf of users damaged by Seroxat and relatives of those who committed suicide while on the drug.

When I called them this week, Glaxo Smithkline said: "Paroxetine [Seroxat's generic name] is an important medicine designed to treat serious psychiatric diseases that cause many thousands of premature and often preventable deaths around the world every year. As with all medicines, SSRI antidepressants can cause side effects in some people."

But I don't have an issue solely with the drug company: I also believe the NHS let me down badly. However wellintentioned, the doctors did nothing but put me out on the street with prescriptions for unsuitable drugs. Many experts agree that so-called "talking therapies" are more effective than antidepressants, and yet while such treatment remains effectively unavailable on the NHS, GPs will have no choice but to write out the prescriptions.

(c)2005. Associated Newspapers Ltd.. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.