Until relatively recently, people with mental disorders were often considered possessed or incurably insane. Diseases like schizophrenia were misunderstood and thus feared. Those who suffered from mental illness were treated more like criminals than patients.
We’ve come a long way in the last half-century. Many mental disorders are increasingly understood for what they are–illnesses resulting from chemical dysfunction in the brain. And although effective treatments exist for a number of illnesses, perhaps none has been as widely acclaimed as Prozac, a drug used to treat depression.
Chronic depression involves brain chemistry. Neurons in the brain communicate with each other via neurotransmitters, chemical messengers sent from one nerve cell to another. To move between cells a neurotransmitter must cross the synapse–the junction between neurons. Depression has been linked to chemical malfunction in the synapse.
In the 1960s scientists developed anti-depressant drugs that increased the amount of neurotransmitter in the synapse, or prolonged or inhibited its actions. The drugs proved effective but had nasty side effects, including dry mouth, blurred vision, drowsiness, and weight gain.
Prozac entered the scene in the United States in 1987. Prozac is so effective because it selectively influences just one neurotransmitter. Unlike its predecessors that affected a range of chemicals, Prozac works only on serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked to depression.
Prozac has shown to be effective, but it’s not a miracle cure. In fact, there is no “cure” for depression. But Prozac has been highly successful in alleviating some of the more debilitating symptoms and allowing many depression sufferers to live normal lives.