Antidepressants are a type of medicine that help when someone is diagnosed with depression. They can also be used to treat other conditions such as anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The opinion is that they work by ‘increasing levels of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and noradrenaline, are linked to mood and emotion’ (Source).
Over the years, I have struggled with my mental health and have been prescribed various antidepressants to help me. Many of them never agreed with me, having the opposite effect. In 2017, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) so my treatment changed and I was given different medication. However, I do have many years of experience of taking antidepressants and below are 10 things I would like to pass on that I have learned.
(Please note: I am not a medical professional and therefore the information below is just based on my experience and what I think is good, as a starter, for people to know. Please speak to your GP or mental health professional before taking this medication)
There are lots of different ones
The main antidepressants prescribed are SSRIs (selective serotonin uptake inhibitors) because there are fewer known side effects. Fluoxetine, citalopram and sertraline are the most common ones but there are also many more. To find out more about the different types available, visit the NHS website.
They work alongside other lifestyle changes
As with any condition, medication alone can only do so much. Your GP or mental health professional might suggest changes to routine, diet, sleep and exercise in order to help you get an all-round level of care. With my BPD, I know that taking my tablets will help chemically balance my brain, but I also need to make sure I exercise regularly, get good quality sleep and avoid alcohol. Everyone is different but after a week or two of adjusting your routine, you might start to feel a little more stable.
Antidepressants are not a cure, but they can help
Taking antidepressants won’t ‘cure’ you of depression but they can certainly help to make you feel better. Speaking to a mental health professional or counsellor about how you’re feeling might help you to deal with what’s happening in your life. Talking to someone you don’t know can be really beneficial as they are there for the purpose of listening and offering guidance.
Not all antidepressants will agree with you
Altogether, I think I tried five different tablets before I found one that worked for me. If you’re prescribed something by your GP and it doesn’t seem to be doing the job, don’t be afraid to tell them. They will only know what you tell them so make sure you’re open and honest so you receive the best care possible.
They can have side effects
Everyone is different when it comes to their reaction to antidepressants. Different tablets have different listed side effects. Always make sure you read the leaflet that comes in the box so you’re aware of how they could affect you. For example, some make you drowsy so it’s not advisable to drive when you’re taking them. I changed tablets several times because although they seemed to be helping mentally, physically I was feeling really unwell. Don’t let that put you off though. As I said, everyone is different.
They can save lives
Taking these tablets pretty much saved my life and those of many others around me. It sounds like a big statement to make but when you’ve lived with extreme mood swings, anxiety and depression all your life, you almost breathe a sigh of relief when there’s something that can help you. If you’re struggling, talk to your GP and let them know. You don’t have to live in a mental fog. You deserve more than that.
They shouldn’t be stopped suddenly
I made the mistake several times of stopping my medication because I felt better or because I forgot to put my prescription in. This isn’t advised as these tablets can make you go into withdrawal, which isn’t very pleasant! However, I would advise being organized and putting a reminder in your phone for when you need to renew your prescription. Do this a few days before you run out to allow for processing time at the pharmacy.
They take a while to kick in
It can take around a week, according the NHS website, for antidepressants to kick in. It helps to take them at the same time everyday so you remember and not to miss a dose. GPs usually recommend being on them for at least six months so you don’t go back to feeling how you did before you took them. If you feel an improvement after 4-6 weeks, you can talk to your GP about lowering your dose.
Keep talking to your GP
It’s important to keep your GP updated about how you’re getting on with your medication and whether they need to adjust anything. They normally start you on a low dose and increase where needed. If you feel they’re not working, let your GP know so they can help.
You don’t have to take them if you don’t want
There are many people with strong opinions about antidepressants. Some can’t live without them, others have found alternatives to taking medication. If the thought of taking medication doesn’t sit right with you, you don’t have to take them if you don’t want to. You could find someone offering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which helps you to understand the way you think, feel and behave. It is available on the NHS but the waiting lists are long. You can do it online but need a GP referral. Counselling is another option as well as self-help groups. Both can be useful in different ways.
As I said above, I’m not a medical professional, just someone with lived experience. If you’re struggling with your mental health, please ask for help. It’s so important to speak to someone and find out what support is available. You deserve to live your life to the fullest and the happiest it can be.
Good luck and if you have any non-medical questions about my blog, message me on Instagram!