Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America Themes

Elizabeth Wurtzel
This Study Guide consists of approximately 30 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Prozac Nation.
This section contains 1,131 words
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Depression

The main focus of the book and the reason behind Wurtzel's behavior, depression and its many forms takes center stage throughout the novel. At times, it is as if Wurtzel is only a puppet and her actions are not her own simply because of the influence of her depressive disease.

One of the biggest hurdles for Wurtzel with her mental illness, especially in her adolescent years, is a misunderstanding of exactly what she is dealing with. Depression is not a widely talked about topic during her childhood as it is today (a fact she attributes largely to the impact and help of Prozac to millions). For this reason, her depression is seen as a problem that she needs to "just fix." There are numerous people in her life, including her mother, that treat Wurtzel's sickness as if this were behaviors that she could simply "fix" as if it were a mere broken part on a car. Other friends will tell her that happiness is a choice and she needs to go after it. To a child who is gifted and highly intelligent, treating her illness as if she is doing something wrong and not working hard enough to fix the problem has a detrimental impact on her psyche.

Another hurdle for Wurtzel with her mental illness is that her particular form does not fit the usual rules and symptoms known about depression at the time. She is fine enough to not be institutionalized but not normal enough to function well in the outside world. For this reason, she remains in a kind of depressive limbo where nobody can quite determine what to do with her. Of course, this ambiguity leads to self-medication of legal, prescribed substances like taking too many Mellaril, but it also encourages illegal drug use like cocaine, Ecstasy and alcohol in excessive amounts. The escape that these drugs give her are a temporary patch to the pain that she feels each day.

When Wurtzel is finally diagnosed as having atypical depression, she feels relief. Her symptoms can be claimed and analyzed. Also, Prozac becomes available and its effects on her are extremely positive (despite the last-ditch suicide attempt). She is able to target her depression and finally release it from her life. Since it becomes part of her character and personality, this is at first a difficult task, but over the course of a few days, Wurtzel literally wakes up and feels safe in her own skin again.

Self-Medication

Throughout her adolescence, Wurtzel is plagued with depression. She is not diagnosed with a particular type of depression, however, and her lack of clarity on the specific diagnosis causes her a lot of uncertainty.

One of the ways that Wurtzel is able to control her depression, her moods and her overall unhappiness is through self-medication. Although she often does not actively seek a solution to self-medicate her depression, she will use a variety of methods to help alleviate her unhappiness. For example, she will often move from one location to another in order to "kick" the problem of her depression. In another town, she'll tell herself, things will be better. Her depression will go away because she will start a new life far away from the complications and obsessions of the current one. What she does not recognize is that the complications surrounding her current environment have all been caused by her and a location change will not impact her life at all; in order to change things, she herself must change. However, Wurtzel doesn't recognize this and she travels to Harvard, Dallas, California and even London in an attempt to assuage the intense sadness and depression she constantly feels. At first, arriving in a new location helps her (later, she will find out that this is a symptom of atypical depression, which is her diagnosis), but after the novelty wears off, she is left with the same feelings of depression and restraint.

In addition to location changes, Wurtzel also self-medicates herself using the popular forms of prescription pills, illegal drugs and alcohol. While she is living in Dallas, it is not uncommon for her to drink heavily throughout the week. In fact, she misses her own birthday party thrown by her mother due to her excessive drinking. When she first comes to Harvard, she takes so many Ecstasy pills that she and her friends are known for their drug use. She takes cocaine when she throws a party at her own house because she cannot seem to get up to greet her guests. When she is in London and thoroughly depressed, she pops too many Mellaril daily in an attempt to lessen the depressive thoughts. Excessive consumption is yet another way for Wurtzel to try to stop her depression when it does little more than cover up the problem and allow the real disease to continue to fester unchecked.

Suicide

One of the most ironic parts about Wurtzel's depression and her mental illness is her lack of desperation. Wurtzel is technically a functioning depressive. She is miserable, highly emotional and intense, yet she is not suicidal. Since she does not attempt a suicide, she cannot be institutionalized and have her insurance pay for it. In other words, she's not crazy enough because she's not desperate enough to want to kill herself.

Throughout her adolescence, Wurtzel notes how ironic it is that she is depressed, but not depressed enough for the insurance companies. She does not feel suicidal for most of her depression, but as the symptoms increase and the prescription pills lose their effectiveness, the possibility for suicide increases. Wurtzel is eventually diagnosed as an atypical depressive, which means that she is one of the "walking wounded." She is able to function in life, but does so through a thick cloud of depression.

Ironically, it is as Wurtzel is finally getting better that she decides to take her own life. After her mother is mugged and hurt badly, she feels guilt for taking money to go on the disastrous London trip and decides that she will pay her mother back and then commit suicide. She visits her therapist and explicitly describes in detail how everything will occur. Her therapist wisely suggests that Wurtzel be put in a lock-down situation. Finally, Wurtzel is desperate and mad enough to have warranted institutionalized, but Wurtzel flips out. She runs away and overdoses on pills. Her depression has finally reached its nadir and she is getting recognized for its severity and she runs away.

Her therapist finds her and saves her, but Wurtzel's suicide attempt is the final straw. Afterward, she will feel better and the Prozac medication will take hold. She reaches the point of committing suicide but finds her way back to climb out of the depressing darkness.

This section contains 1,131 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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