Eagles star Lane Johnson sheds light on anxiety disorders – and SSRIs often used to treat them

Lane Johnson has opened up about the anxiety disorder that prompted his three-week departure from the Eagles this fall, bringing to the fore a mental health issue that many people – and NFL players – are quietly battling.

Johnson admitted on Sunday that he suffered from an anxiety disorder throughout his nine-year NFL career. For years he had hoped his achievements on the pitch would make him feel better, but he said they only made his anxiety worse. And he never spoke publicly about his disorder because he was ashamed.

“In this league, in the NFL, where it’s a gladiator-type sport, it’s something that you don’t often talk about but that is often felt throughout the league,” Johnson said in a meeting aired Sunday by FOX Sports. “We have to talk about it. But yeah, man, I’ve been living in hell for a long time.”

At the start of the NFL season, Johnson was experiencing withdrawal symptoms caused by his decision to stop his medication – a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI. At week 4, Johnson said he could tell his was approaching a breaking point. He hopped in his car and drove to his home in Oklahoma, saying he needed to get back in shape before he could focus on soccer.

“I went, I guess, from a very poor dose to nothing,” Johnson told reporters after Sunday’s game in Detroit. “And so, the side effects – it’s almost like you have the flu. A lot of nausea, a lot of vomiting. And that’s something that stays with you. It doesn’t go away. And that’s really what to do with it. what I was facing. “

SSRIs, the type of medication used by Johnson, are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants, according to the Mayo Clinic. They include brands like Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa. The drugs increase the level of serotonin – a hormone that stabilizes mood – in the brain by blocking its reabsorption in neurons.

These drugs generally cause fewer side effects than other antidepressants while treating moderate to severe symptoms. This combination has made them the first-line drugs for anxiety and depression for the past three decades. They are also less expensive.

“This makes it easier for patients to be treated, not only by psychiatrists, but also by primary care physicians,” said Dr. Mario Cristancho, of the Mood Disorders Treatment Center at Penn Medicine. “In terms of safety and tolerance, SSRIs are easier to use. And they, I will say, are very effective.”

Some research suggests that older antidepressants – tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors – are more potent, Cristancho said. But tricyclic antidepressants are considered less safe than SSRIs and MAOIs require a specific diet.

Another group, the serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, or SNRIs, treat anxiety by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin and norepinephrine, a chemical messenger linked to the fight-or-fight response. These drugs can sometimes be helpful in treating symptoms that SSRIs can’t, Cristancho said.

Finding the most suitable SSRI can take time. People can respond to the same drug differently depending on their symptoms and other health issues – and SSRIs differ in their potency, experts say. It may take several weeks for an antidepressant to be fully effective.

Some people will not experience any side effects, but others may experience them for several weeks. Common side effects are nausea, vomiting, headache, drowsiness, and insomnia.

“These SSRIs take a little while for them to reach their antidepressant or anxiolytic effect,” Cristancho said. “It’s a bit confusing for the patients. Sometimes they start to feel that it isn’t working, they stop the drug and of course they get a bit of frustration.”

Because anxiety and depression are chronic illnesses that cannot be cured, many patients stay on SSRIs for long periods of time, Cristancho said. These drugs not only help people get out of mental health crises, but they also help prevent their symptoms from recurring.

Still, stopping their use, as Johnson did, is not uncommon. In such cases, psychiatrists consider several factors, including the frequency of previous episodes and their severity, Cristancho said. They usually decrease the dose gradually and sometimes recommend psychotherapy.

SSRIs are not addictive, but they can cause withdrawal symptoms, including malaise, nausea, and dizziness, when stopped suddenly or after several missed doses.

“If we stop a drug that the patient has been taking for a while, the body will feel that there is not something that was there every day,” Cristancho said. “It’s not addictive … It’s the body’s response that doesn’t have the treatment there.”

Johnson said he had stopped using his medications because he viewed them as a “crutch.” He added that the support he has received since returning to the Eagles, including from teammate Brandon Brooks, who has missed several games in his career due to anxiety, couldn’t be better.

“The real message is don’t push it back,” Johnson told reporters. “It’s easy to do. The bad news is I think a lot more people have it than it looks. I think it’s easy to put on a poker face.… I remember having it. Heard a statistic at the combine that 40 -50% of people in the NFL have some sort of disease. (Gambling) can do a lot of things for you, but it can often be detrimental. “

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