Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel

  • When purchased: August 2013
  • Where: Secondhand online from (a fabulous indie alternative to, especially for used books)
  • Why: I’m collaborating on a book about depression, and I felt this was an important take on the subject to read
  • How Read: A chapter here and there, over the course of a couple of weeks

I’ll give Elizabeth Wurtzel this: she really owns her depression. Unlike several other memoirs I’ve read that deal with the disease, Prozac Nation refrains from naming names and sensationalizing the actions of other patients. Instead, it focuses on the author’s individual experience and treatment in disturbing yet well-crafted detail. Wurtzel wisely avoids giving advice and justifying her behavior with statistics in favor of presenting her unvarnished truth.

One could argue that this kind of intensely personal narrative leads Wurtzel to come across as spoiled and self-absorbed, but I found her tone refreshingly raw and honest. Sure, the refrain of how horrible life is and how much pain she’s in gets annoying, but this reaction accurately reflects what interacting with a person in that mental state is like.

The early chapters chronicle Wurtzel’s birth into an irretrievably broken home; her precocious performance in the early grades at school; then her descent into a mood so black that she attempts suicide as a pre-teen. She withdraws from everyone and everything that once gave her pleasure into an existence defined by hypersomnia, absenteeism, and the less-than-cheerful lyrics of Dylan and Springsteen.

At the suggestion of a class counselor, Wurtzel begins talk therapy. She manages to piece her life together enough to earn admittance to Harvard in the mid-eighties. There, under increasing academic, social, and family pressure, her mood darkens to the point where she has a full-on nervous breakdown. Eventually, Wurtzel enters into a therapeutic relationship with a psychiatrist she trusts and gets the medication-based help she credits with saving her life.

Wurtzel was in her early twenties when she published this book. That may seem like a grandiose gesture–a bit early in life for such a self-reflexive exercise. But the youth and immaturity that color Wurtzel’s narrative also make it a valuable exploration of the overwhelming sadness that permeates the lives of a number of young people in this culture.

From the Stack to the…

Middle Shelf: A very good source of background information for my project, offering insight into the personal hell of clinical depression. I’d recommend Prozac Nation to any parent with a depressed teen or young adult in their family who is interested in gaining an articulate insider’s perspective on the disease, as well as to anyone suffering from depression who’d like to feel a little less alone.

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