Daring to hope for fast-acting antidepressants.

Over the last several months, I’ve been hearing about initial positive results in testing a new type of depression medication that brings about improvement within a day or two, rather than the typical time frame of two to three weeks for most antidepressants currently on the market.  One of these new medications, ketamine, is a club drug that has also been used as an anesthetic.  In initial trials, ketamine has been so effective that blind studies are becoming difficult; it is too easy to tell who has taken the actual medication and who receives a placebo.

A report regarding using ketamine as an antidepressant, which I heard last year on NPR, focused on depression patients who are hospitalized in hopes of stabilization so that they may be returned to their regular lives.  The story brought back vivid memories for me. When my husband’s depression was in its worst, unmanaged, early stages, I had to face a decision about hospitalization, one that haunts me to this day.

It was our experience, having standard medical insurance and limited financial resources, that emergency psychiatric care was ineffective, and simply served to create anxiety and fear in the midst of an already tragic situation. As I watched my husband succumb to panic attacks while admitted, I had to choose between watching him deteriorate in a place where there was no dignity, where he was physically safe but emotionally drained; or bringing him home to a comforting environment where I would be his sole caregiver while he struggled with the darkness attacking him.  In the end I made the decision to insist on his dismissal after only 24 hours in the hospital.  It was the right thing for him.  And though it meant an overwhelming responsibility, it was the right thing for me as his caregiver, too.

I am certain there are helpful, effective facilities available, where depression patients in crisis can receive the emergency help they need.  However, there are also many caregivers who continue to have experiences similar to mine due to limited choices, limited insurance, and/or limited finances.

The possibility of fast-acting antidepressants becoming available in the future gives hope to depressed individuals and their caregivers.  If medication becomes available that can alleviate severe depression symptoms within days, perhaps a time will come when we no longer have to suffer through a decision to hospitalize a loved one.

-Amy

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