Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Educate Emma: Books: Coming of Age on Zoloft by Katherine Sharpe

Dust Jacket Description:

"When Katherine Sharpe arrived at her college health center with an age-old complaint, a bad case of homesicknesss, she received a thoroughly modern response: a twenty-minute appointment and a prescription for Zoloft - a drug she would take for the next ten years. This outcome, once unlikely, is now alarmingly common. Twenty-five years after Prozac entered the marketplace, 10 percent of Americans over the age of six use an SSRI antidepressant.

In Coming of Age on Zoloft, Sharpe blends deeply personal writing, thoughtful interviews, and historical context to achieve an unprecedented portrait of the antidepressant generation. She explores questions of identity that arise for people who start medication before they have an adult sense of self. She asks why some individuals find a diagnosis of depression reassuring, while others are threatened by it. She presents, in young people's own words, their intimate and complicate relationships with medication. And she weighs the cultural implications of America's biomedical approach to moods."

I received this book for review.

Review: When I signed up to review this book, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. A mix of personal writing and journalistic fact had the potential to become a very disastrous mess, especially with the delicate subject matter. I'm very glad I followed my reader instincts rather than my skepticism, though, because Coming of Age on Zoloft is a great general overview of Generation X's experience with SSRI antidepressants. Sharpe's stories enhanced the piece, and the book itself maintains a fairly neutral perspective on the question of how effective drugs are in helping people with their mental illness.

From the introduction of the piece, I couldn't put the book down. As a modern-day teen, I am used to being in a peer environment in which we all pathologize our problems. Angst and sadness are usually attributed to some kind of depression or self-defect, and I am included in this phenomenon. Reading about how this social paradigm came into being fascinated me, and it also brought up some interesting questions about my own associations with mental illness and medication.

But Sharpe doesn't only tackle the dry facts. Her own interwoven experiences demonstrated the deeply personal elements of using SSRIs. While Sharpe's personal essays showed the emotional side of the topic, stories from other anti-depressant users revealed how wide-spread the issue of SSRIs really is. Usually I get annoyed with a large amount of individual blurbs in my non-fiction, but Sharpe used it to get her point across.

I'd highly recommend this book to anyone dealing with mental illness, especially those who are considering taking anti-depressants. Sharpe's voice is powerful, but it is also gentle and questioning. She never seems to have recovery figured out for herself, and that humility allows her readers to normalize their own uncertainty in the process. All she does is provide her readers with historical and social context, and promises that they're not alone. And that may be exactly what certain readers need to start the healing journey.

Please, pick this up. It's guaranteed to start an interesting dialogue, and since the subject is such a big part of our current society, it's worth reading. 5 flowers. 


  1. Wow, great review. We wondered if you (or the author) would come down strongly on one side of the issue or the other -- to medicate or not to medicate, that is the question -- but you've done a really good job not making any generalizations or judgments.

    1. I tried hard to seem impartial. I think it's a highly personal question that requires an individualistic answer, and I think the book did a good job of expressing that as well.