Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America Characters

Elizabeth Wurtzel
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Elizabeth Wurtzel

The protagonist and author of the autobiography, Wurtzel documents her life from the age of eleven until she finds the Prozac drug in her twenties. Wurtzel is eventually diagnosed with atypical depression, which is why she is a difficult case to diagnose and treat over the years. In addition, while she is experiencing many of her depressive episodes, mental health is still a hush-hush topic that is not open in society. By the end of the novel with the introduction of the Prozac drug, society and mental health depression as a whole will be a much more discussed topic.

In her childhood, Wurtzel lives with her mother and deals with the frustrations of having divorced parents who fight often over her disease. In addition, her father's reluctance and often refusal to pay her medical insurance bills makes her life more difficult and exacerbates her depression. Wurtzel is a gifted child who is highly talented and accomplishes a number of things before she turns eleven. However, she also attends her first therapy session at age eleven. Throughout high school and while attending college at Harvard, Wurtzel slips deeper and deeper into depression.

She acts erratically, and becoming obsessed with the idea that a man (typically her boyfriend at the time) will save her. When they inevitably disappoint her no matter how hard they try not to, she falls into a depression and sadness that far outweighs the true emotional importance of the relationship. She runs from location to location, looking for another escape and another excuse to get better. Through it all, she is on lithium, Mellaril and other drugs in an attempt to control her teetering emotional and psychological state.

Wurtzel is a highly likeable and relatable character, even if the reader does not also suffer from depression. Her account of high school and college life is reminiscent of a typical adolescent lifestyle with the vast exception of having an as-yet undiagnosed form of depression. Had her depression been diagnosed earlier, she might have enjoyed a more successful college experience, but since Prozac was a new drug on the market, its timing proved to be the real catalyst for restoring her life.

In the end, it is with the help of Dr. Sterling, a therapist that she meets while at Harvard, with whom she will make the most progress and eventually gain a more normalized lifestyle. She will take Prozac, the effects of which will play a profoundly positive role on her life.

Sarah Wurtzel

Elizabeth's mother Sarah has an overwhelming influence and role in Wurtzel's life. After her parents divorce when she is two, Wurtzel lives with her mother who plays the main (and sometimes only) parenting role for the girl. She supports her financially, emotionally and psychologically, but the relationship between mother and daughter changes to become more of a symbiotic "friendship" relationship over the years. Wurtzel is there to help her mother through her difficult times as much as Sarah tries to understand and comprehend her daughter's depression.

Wurtzel says that the relationship between Sarah and her father Donald contributes to her depression since they fight frequently over her depression and possible treatment options. When Wurtzel's father refuses to pay treatment, it is Sarah who continues to help support Wurtzel and get her to therapy and find the prescription drugs she might need. However, her overreactions and dramatic responses to both Wurtzel and her father are a part of why Wurtzel's depression remains a severe problem. At times, Wurtzel will make a decision she believes is the right one to help treat her depression and her mother does not give her the supportive talks that Wurtzel expects at the time.

Sarah does try her best as a parent to help quell Wurtzel's depression. Even Wurtzel admits that her approach to treat Wurtzel as if she were totally normal was a way for Wurtzel to reign it in and perhaps not lose her mind as much as she might have except for the fear that it would also send her own mother over the edge. In this way, Wurtzel has to balance her own problems against that of her mother; sometimes to a beneficial effect for her (in the case that she cannot wallow too much in her misery) and sometimes to a detrimental one (when she consoles her mother after she finds out she had sex with her very-recently-ex boyfriend).

When Sarah suffers an attack from a mugger, Wurtzel comes to be with her at the hospital and then take care of her once she returns to her apartment in the city. Despite the fact that Wurtzel can hardly take care of herself, she manages to effectively help her mother and causes a role reversal of sorts in their relationship. It is during this time that Sarah tells Wurtzel that she understands what her daughter is going through and that many of her actions are not her fault; it is the fault of the disease. Wurtzel isn't sure if her mother has said this before and she didn't hear it because she wasn't on Prozac or if this is a first-time revelation, but regardless, it is a huge breakthrough for Wurtzel. For the first time, a feeling of acceptance from her mother shines through and Wurtzel sees improvement afterward.

Donald Wurtzel

Elizabeth's father, Donald plays a mostly negative role in his child's life. He divorces Sarah (Wurtzel's mother) when Wurtzel was two years old, but plays a minimal role in her parenting afterwards. He sleeps constantly during the first few parenting visits that she has with him and Wurtzel just assumes that fathers sleep often since she doesn't know otherwise.

As Wurtzel's depression increases, he starts to refuse to pay the medical bills despite the fact that insurance has paid for most of her treatment. When he disapproves of Dr. Isaac, for example, he outright refuses payment altogether, making what he believes is a stand against Sarah. What he doesn't realize is that his lack of financial participation has a more negative role on Wurtzel herself, who has to spend extra time chasing down insurance forms or being denied treatment completely.

Donald doesn't pay much attention to Wurtzel until she becomes depressed. Then, her dark poetry and morbid musings become a source of interest to him. In order to escape life and responsibilities, however, he leaves and quits communicating with Wurtzel for nearly a year. She finally tracks him down through her grandmother while he is living with his new wife in Florida and speaks with him right before she goes to college .

She finally ends her relationship with him during college after a phone call. He tells her that he won't pay any more insurance because that's her mother's job, and Wurtzel finally tells him that she gives up on him and their relationship entirely.


Wurtzel's boyfriend in college, they meet through a mutual friend who believes they will bond because both have had similar family problems and Rafe is familiar with the effects of depression. Wurtzel calls him randomly years later and they start talking and eventually dating. She will become obsessed with Rafe, which he handles fairly well until it is time for winter break.

Since Wurtzel cannot stand to be apart from Rafe even for a moment and feels like he is too far away even while they are having sex, she does not react well when Rafe tells her that they will not see each other during the entire four weeks of winter break. To her, it seems like an eternity. Her mental illness causes her to overreact and obsess even more about him. She knows that she is cracking up and doesn't seem to be able to control it — or care. She calls him at his house at all hours of the evening despite the fact that his sister is also ill and she is driving his mother crazy.

Wurtzel will later see that Rafe almost enjoys her obsessive behavior and depression in their relationship and seems to nurture it in Wurtzel. Since he comes from a family where disasters and drama are commonplace, he is drawn to Wurtzel. She will compare his behavior to later boyfriends and realize that while other boyfriends didn't like her depressive actions and preferred her when she was feeling better, Rafe was the opposite, which wasn't healthy for her or their relationship.

Dr. Sterling

Wurtzel's therapist at Harvard, Dr. Sterling is responsible for saving Wurtzel's life in a variety of ways. First, she is a huge source of support for Wurtzel during her darkest days. Also, she is a voice of reason during times when her mother or parents in general are not being supportive or acting as clear role models for her. She helps Wurtzel when she is in the infirmary at Harvard and also sees that for Wurtzel, continuing her schoolwork is an effective and strong way to allow Wurtzel to have a more normal lifestyle.

Dr. Sterling places Wurtzel on a range of medications, including Mellaril, which helps her to stabilize her emotions and calm down. Also, the drug is beneficial because she cannot theoretically overdose on it as it is a anti-psychotic. Dr. Sterling will be the one that will help Wurtzel discover the drug that changes her life — Prozac. Just after going on Prozac, Wurtzel has her first suicide attempt and Dr. Sterling is there to save her and also help to explain why she suddenly decided to take her life. She also explains to Wurtzel why her sudden rush and love of life after a suicide attempt is a normal response to her behavior. In all, Dr. Sterling is an incredibly powerful and positive influence in Wurtzel's life.


During her time at Harvard, Wurtzel rooms with a girl named Samantha, who also used to have depression problems. Since she was dating a man named Manuel at the time, Wurtzel and Samantha concoct a notion to have Wurtzel stay with him in London as a means of recovery for Wurtzel. The plan fails miserably, but Samantha does honestly try to help Wurtzel when she suffers extreme bouts of her depression.

Dr. Isaac

Also referred to as the Crack Pusher by Wurtzel, Dr. Isaac is Wurtzel's first therapist and prescribes a number of medications for her, including lithium. Since it is in his best interest (according to Wurtzel) that she stay on the lithium, she ignores his warnings about quitting lithium cold turkey because she fears Graves' disease. She will later return to the prescription after her condition worsens considerably. Later, Wurtzel cannot rate how effective Dr. Isaac and his treatment plans were for her since she feels he spent most of his time dealing with her parents and their outbursts rather than treating the problem at hand, which is her depression.


The ex-boyfriend of Samantha, Wurtzel stays with him while in London. At first mean to her, Manuel eventually warms up and Wurtzel later says that she gave him an accidental blowjob as a result.

Wurtzel's sophomore advisor, Chris

The only person against Wurtzel's trip to London is her sophomore advisor, Chris. He tells her that he has seen her condition and visited her in the hospital after her breakdown. He knows about her miscarriage and believes that she needs to stay at Harvard and really immerse herself in her studies.

Dr. Saltenstahl

The first therapist that Wurtzel meets at Stillman, the Harvard infirmary. She really likes Dr. Saltenstahl, but since she is booked, she goes to see Dr. Sterling instead. Dr. Sterling is a recommendation from Dr. Saltenstahl.

This section contains 1,937 words
(approx. 5 pages at 400 words per page)
Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America from BookRags. (c)2016 BookRags, Inc. All rights reserved.
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