When I was younger, I wasn’t particularly as sickly child so never took any sort of medication or went to the doctors regularly. Since I was diagnosed with panic disorder in 2012, I have taken various medications on repeat prescription, starting with betablockers, for various medical problems. Some people prefer holistic therapies, but on the whole, noone would really question any of my medications and understood why I took them. This was until last year- until I started taking antidepressants.
I was reluctant to take them at first as there is a stigma surrounding their use which I feel confused about. Noone would question a diabetic taking insulin to bring down their glucose levels or someone with a broke leg taking painkillers to block pain receptors, but taking an SNRI (as I take) to increase Serotonin and Norepinephrine is frowned upon. I think they main areas that concern people stem from 2 issues: 1. The fact it is used to alter chemicals in the brain and 2. The fact it has been linked to increased risk of suicide in young people. I’m going to address these 2 issues below.
Chemicals altering the brain
Consider the following: A person has a chemical imbalance the body and there is an approved medication that can be used to raise the levels of this chemical in the body and help them feel better. Most people would say, give them the medication, surely? Add in the context: A person has clinical depression and there is an antidepressant that can be used to raise their serotonin levels and help them to start on the path to feeling better. Then people suddenly become caution. The fact is that it is the mental aspect that scares people. It is what makes a person them and adding chemicals to change that is why people dislike this. I felt similar, in fact I’m weary of taking any new medication, but that all changed for me. I had been through a family loss and was not only depressed but anxious and had OCD (but didn’t realise the latter). Confused about what was wrong with me, I saw my psychologist who advised me to try the antidepressant I was being offered by my doctor. This made me turn a corner as she was not big on me using medication for my panic attacks in the past. I realised that if she thought I needed it, then maybe I did. A medical professional and a qualified psychologist were advising this as the best course of action for me. They are informed and educated on the topic and how it works, so if they have no doubts, I do not see why the public should. Some people will read this and say they could manage without the medication, but I think it takes you to reach a certain place before you realise how difficult that reality is.
Increased suicide risk
I completely understand this fear. There are known risks of young people or people who have experienced suicidal thoughts in the past having an increased risk of having suicidal thoughts when they first start taking antidepressants. This is known as a paradoxical reaction. I understand this fear as I have experienced it first hand. When I first started on antidepressants, I was prescribed an SSRI. 3 hours after taking it I was awake shaking and for the next 3 days, my anxiety, OCD and depression were so bad I ended up in A&E. I just wanted everything to end and couldn’t sleep for the shaking. As there was noone to prescribe anything strong enough to counteract the effects in the hospital, they considered voluntarily admitting me to a psychiatric hospital. Realising this was not the best course of action, I was prescribed something by one of their psychiatrists and sent home for the drug to wear off. All in all, this was a completely terrifying experience for both me and my mum. I don’t even think my GP knew how bad the reaction could be. It was genuinely a dark place and stuff of nightmares, especially as I’ve never even considered harming myself let alone wishing someone or something would just end my life. In some ways, taking that SSRI was the worst decision of my life. In other ways, it was the best. Without trying that SSRI, I would not have got put on my medication that works now, but most importantly, I would not have faced my anxiety and dealt with my OCD as well. I have learnt so much about my anxiety and OCD, what triggers it and when it is worse. If I hadn’t been that low, I don’t know if I ever would have confronted it. Some will think this is nonsense, but I have had a brilliant year at university since and I know I’m slowly getting better which is enough for me.
Overall, I might be on antidepressants for life, I might come off them next week, but I know that the good they do for people who are depressed or suffer from another mental health problem is most important. Some will never understand why you would want to take a drug that alters you brain chemistry, but I am certain that without it, in combination with CBT, I would not have just had the best second year at uni and met such great people on my course.
Below I’ve added some picture of things I’ve done in my last year on antidepressants…