Letters to the editor

Giving the suicidal the energy to finally do it; pushing the Emmy envelope; David Letterman: Revolutionary or just cranky?

Published July 27, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

My antidepressant made me do it!



I've been a psychiatric nurse for 20 years. Any antidepressant can cause the person taking it to become suicidal because they now have the energy (thanks to said antidepressants) to follow through with their suicidal ideations. That's psych. nursing 101, guys. Next time do your research. It's even stated in the "Physician's Desk Reference." Back before managed care, anyone depressed enough to need medication was hospitalized. Now people pop Prozac with their morning coffee. And all that voodoo talk about akithesia is a crock of lawyer-manufactured manure. It's no more debilitating than the feeling you get from an extra cup of coffee and is easily treated with Cogentin or over-the-counter Benadryl. You can even get akithesia from Compazine which is a common medication for simple nausea. And while I'm on a roll: Mixing cocaine and alcohol is deadly and a sure prescription for crimes of passion -- either self- or other-directed. Brynn Hartman's family needs to put their hands back in their pockets and their hearts into raising those two traumatized kids.

-- Nancy Rodrigues, R.N.

I have a lot of problems with your article. I'll take them roughly in their order of appearance.

First, to blame Zoloft for the actions of a woman who had well-documented problems with actual addictive drugs and who was known to be on cocaine and alcohol at the time of her actions is, as Joel Douglas lucidly states, reaching.

Second, with relation to the Hartman case and the cases listed on the second page of the article, depression is a disorder of the mind and the brain. Separating the two is usually futile and irrelevant. The mental consequences are familiar -- depressed mood, suicidal ideation, increased guilt and so on -- but there are physical, somatic consequences as well, like lower energy levels and sleep disturbances. Most psychiatrists are familiar with a seemingly paradoxical effect of antidepressant treatment: While it takes several weeks or months to improve the patient's mood, it works much faster on the more "vegetative" symptoms like overall energy level and motivation. What results is a suicidally depressed person with the energy and motivation to carry out their ideas. Tragically, some of them succeed. Blaming antidepressants for this is wrongheaded and illogical (I hope it's obvious why) and smacks of a Scientology-like anti-pharmaceutical crusade. Drugs may not be the answer to what ails America, but they beat being depressed and killing yourself.

Then there is the matter of "akathisia," a side effect that "never appears in the warning labels for Prozac and Zoloft that are supposed to inform doctors about the risks [of medications] ... Nor do the labels include any discussion of the possible risk of suicide." The inserts, which are available from the Pfizer and Eli Lilly Web sites, mention nervousness, anxiety, agitation and tremor (which, I can tell you, taken together are a pretty good description of the state). Lilly's Prozac insert does mention akathisia, at least as of March 1999. And both inserts contain the following lines on suicide:

The possibility of a suicide attempt is inherent in depression and may persist until significant remission occurs. Close supervision of high-risk patients should accompany initial drug therapy.

The way Rob Waters used each side's lawyers, pharmaceutical company representatives and Peter Breggin in a point/counterpoint manner solidifies, for this reader, his desire to sensationalize the argument instead of seek a more reasonable truth. It would have been nice to hear from people who had experienced the side effect or an impartial doctor familiar with it instead of reading the intellectual equivalent of a wrestling match. Hearing from anyone medical, someone with a sophisticated understanding of side effects, would have helped, too. Taking drugs is risky and our system is set up to minimize that risk, but it cannot be eliminated, and while rare side effects are tragic, blaming pharmaceutical companies for not eliminating them is foolish and money-grubbing.

The last page of the article was somewhat heartening to read; at least it admits (eventually) that the 10-year-old controversy was specious and the current reawakening of it equally so. But Kip Kinkle was from Oregon.

I was pretty surprised to find such a badly presented article in Salon. I've been a faithful daily reader for about six months and have come to expect much more in articles that handle difficult topics. I thought that Salon understood that presenting two opposing radical, financially motivated viewpoints is a bad way to get inside a topic. I think on the whole that is understood. I hope this article is the anomaly it seems to be.

-- Amber Baum

Pushing the envelopes



Subject: How do we get you on the nomination committee?

I'm sure you get tons of kudos for this list -- and quite a few people disagreeing I'd imagine, but I'm not one of them! Your picks are all intelligent, and mostly based on merit. I am a firm believer in the concept of retiring "Frasier" ... I mean COME ON how many times can they win for a show that (I personally don't think) is really all that exciting? My faves lie with the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" nominations ... they may never happen, but they are well deserved. That show consistently makes me laugh, and occasionally makes me cry. Good luck to all of them! And congrats on a FABULOUS compilation of Emmy picks! If there was a way to get you onto the selection committee, you'd have my vote!

-- Sarah Little

Brilliant Careers: David Letterman



I think that Scott Dikkers got it absolutely right, it was Letterman who made the world a sarcastic place. Letterman really shined because his irony was rooted in his status as a celebrity outsider. Unfortunately, like all "cool" culture from "Don't go there!" to Dave's "I don't give a rat's ass" attitude, it was copied, watered down and fed back to us as movie trailers. Watching "Late Night" reruns has proven this to me. Dave's style of comedy used to be like seeing a pie in the face for the first time. Unfortunately, now that everyone has learned this trick, I think it's a good thing that Dave has moved on to something else.

-- Jason Jacob

Bonn, Germany

David Letterman will always appeal to a certain segment of men. But if you're a women, forget it. He leaves me cold. He comes across as a snide guy who got beat up in the schoolyard and is fighting back. He's always seemed fairly mean-spirited and out of touch with reality to me. I'm also not interested in following the latest and "greatest" in the late-night scene (who has the time?) -- but please -- David Letterman is no Johnny Carson. He seems tired and bitter, and if you want to call that "comfortable in his own leathery skin," fine. I just don't think he's insightful or funny.

-- Maria Mortati

In his paean to David Letterman, Ken Tucker speaks of him as an iconoclast. Why? Because he calls network execs "weasels"? Perhaps for his next bit of breathtaking wit and originality Letterman could say something about the "fat cats in Washington," or maybe give us a lawyer joke?

The Leno-Letterman ratings war was over a small section of the viewing public, matching near-identical formulae with tired humor, jokes driven into the ground and an endless parade of B- and C-list celebrities. It was not fought through "guerrilla warfare" or "revolution." Letterman does not have an "ironic take" on the format -- he has a slavish emulation with a sneer and a wink. The real "ironic takes" on this format are the savage parodies that ridicule it instead of copying it -- "Fernwood Tonight" and "The Larry Sanders Show," for example.

Mr. Tucker throws about phrases which simply do not belong in any discussion of the Carson/Leno/Letterman genre: "loony," "comedic guerrilla warfare," "anything-can-happen" and "revolutionary." Either this is hyperbole to add spice to a trough of blandness or Mr. Tucker needs to get out more.

-- Ben Walsh

San Francisco

Unrequired Reading



Since I work in publishing, I have to respond to Ray Sawhill's essay, though I am almost at a loss for where to begin. Now, it is true that working in the business changes what you read, and how you read it. When I was a kid, I thought the best job in the world would be to get paid to read, but it turns out that when you actually get there, you don't always have a choice of what it is you're going to be paid to read. There's the slush, and the proofreading job you took home to pay the rent, and the tedious awful vampire novel you got stuck editing because the original editor left the company. And so on. Like everybody else, I don't feel like I have as much time as I would like to read the books I'd really like to read. However, since I jealously guard what little time I do have, I've pretty much given up on the idea of reading books I don't really like just "to keep up with what's going on." I mean, if you think Salman Rushdie's books are boring and pretentious, and you aren't being paid to read them, don't. If you're reading Don DeLillo because "he's homework," and you aren't either his editor or his publicist, then you're wasting your time. The notion that these writers are "important" mainly comes from sources that are remarkably unreliable guides to finding anything interesting to read. Why not instead read "Jack Faust" by Michael Swanwick, or "Celestis" by Paul Park, or "Ledoyt" by Carol Emswhiller, or "Terraplane" by Jack Womack or ...

And what exactly did he mean when he said that the "wittiest answer" to the question of what editors would rather not read was the New York Times Book Review? I would guess that those respondents were not being witty, but rather quite serious. Personally, I think the NYTBR is almost entirely unmitigated crap, and I have yet to encounter a single person in publishing who actually likes it. When the occasional actually interesting book slips past their guard, they bury it in the brief reviews in the back pages. I can't read it anymore; it just pisses me off.

"What would our reading lives be like if they weren't preoccupied with, or nagged at by, the dream of literature?" Sawhill asks. "My poll suggests that in such a world the reader who finds Toni Morrison a hectoring drag and Salman Rushdie a radical-chic blowhard wouldn't hesitate to say so."

Well, here I am saying so, but saying so because I am nagged by the dream of literature -- a literature in which invention, perception and ideas are valued more than elitist posturing and obeisance to outdated, archaic ideals.

-- Bryan Cholfin

Who Killed Literature?



Jose Klein's review raises the question which obviously Mr. Woodring can't and won't face: not how bad a job English departments have done, but why have them at all? I speak as one who wanted all his life to teach literature, got my Ph.D. and spent five years as an assistant professor. What one really does as an English professor is spout one's own philosophy, ethics, politics, etc. using the texts as "inspiration." Never did one of my professors show me the art of what I was reading. Because fundamentally when you see and appreciate the heart of a book, all you can say is, "Wow. That's really neat!" That doesn't make for a good term paper, but it's right on.

Literature was never written for academics. No writers (especially the dead ones) in their wildest dreams ever thought they would be read after they died or that if (by some miracle they were read) they would need some professor to explain them to a reader. No wonder Gore Vidal calls academics "squirrels and monkeys."

Klein is absolutely right. Woodring's is another coy attempt to restore professorial relevance by admitting the mistakes of the past (and present). The real question is, "Who needs these guys?"

-- Eugene McCreary

Between $1 paperbacks, cheap CDs, inexpensive art prints and of course the Net itself, discovering and acquiring good literature has never been easier or less expensive. The great tradition is alive and well, even if only weeds flourish in the groves of academe. We will soon stop paying farmers to not grow things; we must stop subsidizing academicians to not write things. No. 2 wheat and processed cheese are at least edible, but nearly all the literary output from the politically rectal professoriat is indigestible. Money that ostensibly goes to education has been cleverly diverted by the bureaucrats. Solution: redirect subsidies back to individual students and away from institutions. I predict subsequent reductions of intellectual sludge.

-- Richard D. Henkus

Santa Clara, Calif.

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