Twenty years after hailing antidepressants in her memoir Prozac Diary, a now jaded, sceptical Lauren Slater revisits the psychopharmacological industry – with uneven results
In Prozac Diary (1998), Lauren Slater wrote powerfully of the way fluoxetine had transformed her previously chaotic life. While the author recorded a handful of negative side-effects – a profound loss of libido, for instance – the reader was left with the sense that Prozac had pieced back together the shards of Slater’s existence. In some ways, The Drugs That Changed Our Minds is a sequel to that book. Slater is now in her mid-50s, recently divorced, and on a cocktail of antidepressants. She’s “a consumer of polypsychopharmacy”, having taken fluoxetine, venlafaxine, olanzapine, aripiprazole, clonazepam, lisdexamfetamine “and probably one or two other tablets I’m forgetting because there are so many”.
The book weaves between Slater’s personal history and a wide-ranging narrative of the development of the psychopharmalogical industry, with each chapter following a new evolution in the antidepressant market. Where Prozac Diary was a (measured) celebration of the power of mood-altering drugs, the tone here is far more jaded. Slater has seen her mental and physical health eroded by the hedonic logic of pill-popping: she needs to take more and more with each passing year just to stay (more or less) sane.