Antidepressants: Help or Harm?
Let me start by saying that I am not a medical professional. I cannot give you advice about whether you should take any form of medication or not. Each person is different, with their own unique health conditions and their own personal circumstances and experiences. There are far too many variables to apply a one size fits all solution. And so this decision should be made in collaboration with your GP, as does your ongoing treatment plan.
So you may be wondering what the purpose of this blog is when I start it with a disclosure that I cannot answer the question it poses? Well, my aim is to discuss my own thoughts, feelings, and experiences on antidepressants to help you to make an informed choice without any of the stigma attached.
My Initial Thoughts
So if I’m honest, I had struggled with my own mental health for many years before I ever considered going onto anti-depressants. And if I’m completely honest, I saw them as a failing. An admission that I wasn’t able to cope by myself anymore. And if I was to admit that I could no longer cope, then how would that ever change? Would I succumb to a lifetime of pills and medication? Would I need to top on the dosage just to get the same hit like people need with recreational drugs? Or possibly the worst concept to try to get my head around was knowing that people are reported to feel numb on them. And I really didn’t want to feel numb. To me, it would be far better to feel pain than nothing at all.
So what changed?
Well, I reached a point in my life where I was so low I personally felt I had run out of options. I had suffered a breakdown. I could not work. I couldn’t even press the power button on my laptop. I was unable to function in daily life. I lost the ability to look after myself other than occasionally eating or drinking something, which was difficult to find any food when shopping was on the list of things that were beyond my capability. I wasn’t sleeping and it is fair to say I was pretty desperate.
So I guess I resorted to antidepressants finally after all these years because I had reached a point where I felt I was no longer able to cope by myself. Failing or not, I needed help.
What was it Like Taking Antidepressants?
One of the biggest things to know about antidepressants is that they do not provide an immediate solution. I needed them to fix me. More than that, I needed to be saved. I was so desperately low. And yet, antidepressants will take between 3-4 weeks to have any effect. This can even be up to 6 weeks in some cases. And the doctor will not want to over-subscribe you a higher dose than you need. So you may find like I did, that you get to the end of this period and they have had little to no effect on your mood. So the dosage needs to be increased and you start the wait all over again until the point you find the right balance for you.
You should also know, that there are potential side effects with every form of medication, and antidepressants are no different. And I am sure the doctor will discuss these with you. For me, I experienced hallucinations that sound quite scary but because I was aware that’s what they were I found them more curious than frightening. But if you are experiencing side effects, discuss these with your doctor and decide whether you are happy to continue on them and accept the side effects that come with it. Or to swap to a different medication, but just bear in mind that this will mean starting the wait all over again potentially.
And the truth was, I did feel numb on them. For a long time actually. But then, I felt pretty numb off them too. Depression does that to you. But this didn’t last. As time went on and I began to heal, I noticed that the numbness started to wear on. I could feel emotions again, both happy and sad and everything in between. I am sure the pills probably did level this out a bit. So maybe I didn’t experience happiness to quite the extent I would have if I hadn’t have been on them. And my sadness definitely didn’t reach the dark realms I found myself in before. But I was no longer numb. And to me, this was a big sign that I was no longer dependent on the pills to manage my mood.
So are Antidepressants a Long Term Cure?
Again, I can’t answer this for you. There is still so much that we are learning about mental health and one of the areas that are being researched is whether it is the result of a chemical imbalance in our brains. And it is fair to say we know that our hormones can certainly play a part in this. So for some, they find staying on a low dose of medication can help to keep them feeling balanced and this is their choice to make.
For me personally, I felt that the antidepressants were the plaster and not the cure. I needed to process some undealt with trauma and so having the antidepressants to keep me on a level while I opened up old wounds and raw emotions in therapy meant that when I came out of that process, I no longer felt reliant on them for my emotional support. I had built up my resilience and coping mechanisms and I was able to manage life without them.
For me personally, I felt that antidepressants were the plaster not the cure
This is a personal decision that we all need to make. But one thing we must do is to always consult with our doctor in the first instance. Doctors have a responsibility to their patients to regularly monitor repeat prescriptions and they should be discussing your options with you to support you in making informed decisions. If they do not set up regular appointments to check your progress on the antidepressants, you should make sure to book your own appointments at regular intervals.
If you are looking to come off antidepressants, this needs to be part of a gradual treatment plan to ween you off of them, as a sudden drop in hormone levels could result in you going back to where we started from. So if you are wanting to come off of your medication, speak with your doctor first and decide the best route to achieve this.
So, Antidepressants: Help or Harm?
So, in closing, for me, they definitely helped. I personally think the ultimate solution was therapy. But what they gave me was the ability to function, to have the reserves to cope and manage my emotions, whilst I sought help through other means. They formed a part of my treatment plan, and whilst they may not have made the biggest difference to my long-term mental health, they did have a huge difference in my ability to cope in the short term, here and now.
I no longer see them as a failing. And I know that for me if used as part of a blended treatment plan that runs alongside therapy that they provide me with short-term support until I have the strength of mind to support myself.
The aim of this article wasn’t to have you all rushing to your doctor’s surgery to get a prescription. It was to break down the stigma attached to antidepressants and to give you some information from someone that has first-hand experience, to help you to make an informed choice, and to empower you to make the right decisions for your own health.
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