Side Effects: What are they really?

Our class viewing of the film Side Effects left me disturbed and confused.  The tremendously confusing plot twist at the end aside, it left me wondering about the side-effects of commonly prescribed drugs such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors’ (SSRI) and the impact these side effects could have on society. Horrified that SSRI’s could actually result in murderous sleepwalking, I decided to investigate the true side effects.  I found a table of side effects from frequently used anti-depressants from an article by Dr. James Ferguson. Take a look at the table below  Notice anything? Yeah, sleepwalking is not on the list.  In fact, the only sleep-related side effects are insomnia and fatigue. Therefore the psychiatrist (aka. Jude) should have known that something fishy was going on.

Interestingly, anti-depressant use has been linked to aggression. While this could indicate violent behavior, a case study investigating the relationship between anti-depressant use and homicide/ suicide rates discovered that there was a negative correlation between the two (Bouvey & Liem, 2012). This indicates that as AD use increased, rates of “lethal violence” decreased. While this correlational finding does not rule out unusual side effects for some individuals, I would not want people who are severely depressed to deny medical treatment because they saw this movie that indicated they could become violent and kill someone else or themselves. There are unusual side effects to many medications and the key is to be vigilant and aware.

The film also brought up many ethical issues including the method of drug dispersion and drug use in the US.  The clinical trial the psychiatrist was involved in would make him extremely biased, which seems highly unethical.  In addition, his desire to take Ritalin to help him concentrate even though he does not have an attention disorder was disturbing.  While these ethical aspects were interesting to us because we have been studying the neurological effects of these drugs, I would be interested to know what impressions the film made on general audience regarding psychiatric medications.  Would this film deter individuals from taking these medications? Encourage them? Did the film further stigmatize psychiatric medications or help to break the stigma?

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Check out the articles I mentioned!


Bouvey & Liem:


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