Last week, a major study was published which concluded that, yes, antidepressants do work.
The study, published in The Lancet, analysed more than 500 trials involving 116,477 people and concluded that all of the actual antidepressants were more effective in treating mental health conditions than placebo (dummy) drugs. The study also found some antidepressants were more effective than others.
For years, there’s been a stigma around taking antidepressants, along with continuous questions as to whether they actually work or not. There seems to be more of a reluctance to go on them, despite the fact that if you went to the doctor for a physical health condition, you’d likely take all the medicine you were given without question. The Royal College of Psychiatrists told the BBC the study “finally puts to bed the controversy on antidepressants”.
However, at the same time, mental health is complex, and what treatment might work for one person may not work for another. Many antidepressants also come with side-effects which can vary from being manageable to more significant.
Reacting to the findings, mental health charity Mind said: “It’s important to say that, while antidepressants can be effective for some, they are not the solution for everyone and are not recommended as a first-line treatment for mild depression. Anyone considering taking antidepressants should be made aware of the possible side effects they might experience and should have their treatment reviewed regularly.”
But what do people who are actually taking the medicine think? Cosmopolitan UK spoke to six women who have previously taken—or are still taking—them, about their experiences with the medications.
“They have allowed me to feel things again”
Kate Leaver, 30, journalist
“I’ve been on and off antidepressants since I was diagnosed with depression at 13-years-old. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 17 so we added in antipsychotic medication too. It’s been difficult—they’re not perfect, they react differently to everybody and often I had trouble with them but persevered to find the right ones for me so I remain a hardcore advocate for them.
They have allowed me to function, they’ve allowed me to feel well enough to get out of bed and leave the house. They’ve allowed me to interact socially with my friends and other people, to work and probably most importantly, to feel things again, things like love and enthusiasm for life. Depression can make you painfully numb, it can rob you of all those lovely feelings and it’s only when I’ve been on medication that I get access to those emotions again.
It’s pretty common to have side effects, often it’s a situation where you have to weigh up what you can put up with in exchange for a stable mood. At the moment, I’m on some MAOIs (which work on an enzyme in my gut as well as my brain). They give me really low blood pressure, so I’m often quite light-headed and have to get up very slowly in the mornings or if I’ve been sitting down. They’ve also made me put on some weight, which is a real bore. But, to me, that’s worth it for now because I am able to function like a human being, feel things and interact with people, write, adore my boyfriend and all the lovely things that chemically balanced people get to do all the time.”
“Without them, I don’t know where I would be today”
Han, 27, blogger
“Overall, my experience on antidepressants has been positive. I can still go about my daily life even when anxiety is writhe, when before I would have hidden away from the world.
I was put on them after being diagnosed with anxiety aged 17, I was struggling with everyday life, didn’t want to leave the house and was skipping sixth form. I had no confidence. I was referred by my GP for counselling but because I was on the cusp of turning 18 I was forced to see a child therapist and she just didn’t have the skills to deal with what was going on with my life so I decided to seek help in the form of medication.
I get some side effects like vertigo every so often and headaches but I recently lowered my dosage.
I feel antidepressants have a bad stigma attached to them purely because people don’t understand how much they can help people. Some people assume they will turn you into an emotionless zombie, others think it’s a cop-out. Headlines calling them ‘happy pills’ don’t help to fight the stigma. Without them getting me through my darkest times I don’t know where I would be today.”
“I become suicidal when depressed, it’s vital I take medication for my health”
Eleanor Segall, 29, mental health blogger
“I started taking antidepressants when I was 15 after an acute depressive episode where I had to take time off school. A year later I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was hospitalised so I was prescribed a mood stabiliser as well to keep me on an even keel.
I was concerned about some of the side effects but the positives for my mind and brain chemistry outweighed the negatives. Over the years, I have been on different antidepressants including fluoxetine, duloxetine and now sertraline. I also continue to have psychodynamic therapy and have tried CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), art therapy, and meditation.
Overall, I’ve been taking antidepressants for almost 14 years and they do help. I am prone to depression, my brain chemistry is such that bipolar runs in my family, so the antidepressants help keep me at an even, functioning level. Without them, I am tearful, low, emotional and find life a lot harder. I also become suicidal when depressed so it is vital I take medication for my health.
There is a big stigma around antidepressants, particularly against bipolar and other chronic conditions. But I think this new study offers proof that, for some of us, they are vital.”
“I don’t see why I would come off them”
Daisy Barnes, 28, co-founder of Yolk
“I’ve had chronic depression since I was about 16. I considered my low mood to be normal alongside the constant anxiety but then I felt I couldn’t cope on my own anymore despite my very best intentions, so sought the help of antidepressants.
I had tried everything but medication for about three years, including CBT and mindfulness therapies. I tried the first antidepressant, Citalopram, and it had no effect at all which was really frustrating, I felt I was on my own.
On the whole, I found GPs to be useless, apart from the one who put me on my current antidepressant fluoxetine, better known as Prozac. She said the one thing that made me start taking them: ‘Daisy, if you had diabetes and I told you to take insulin, would you say no? You have low serotonin so take the pills!’
The meds were a bitch to begin with, they made me more anxious and gave me insomnia, I very nearly came off them. I persevered and eventually, there came some relief. Fluoxetine has helped me exhale and settle. Depression makes everything so hard, from texting a friend back to brushing your teeth. My medication just lets everything be.
At the moment, I don’t see why or when I would come off them. Antidepressants don’t make my life easy or stress-free but they make it bearable and I feel like I can cope.
I feel like the name of the medication needs to be changed, antidepressants sound so negative. I would be much more at peace to say I was taking ‘serotonin supplements’ and I also think it makes it easier for people who have no experience with depression to understand then what they are and why people take them.”
“Within six months, my mental health had been turned around”
Brit Bull, 19, fashion vlogger
“I’ve been taking fluoxetine for almost three years now. I’ve always battled with panic attacks and anxiety from as young as 11 but I never spoke to anybody because I was so young. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I started looking into options. I was upset, angry and constantly arguing with family and friends. I wasn’t a nice person to be around because I didn’t want to be around.
I remember being surprised by how casual my visit to the doctor was. I was offered counselling but told the waiting list was six months long, I didn’t want to wait another six months after holding it all in for five years so agreed to try the antidepressants.
I was happy to give them a go, however, my friends at the time had their own perceptions: ‘You’ll get addicted’, ‘Your hormones will be all over the place’. I’m glad I wasn’t easily influenced by their opinions. People around you might think they know what is best but they are not mental health experts and that is important to remember.
I reckon my medication took about six weeks to take effect, the changes were small at first and I think the people around me noticed a difference before I did but, within six months, my mental health had been turned around. I am now the best version of myself, I make the right decisions and I’m even starting my own business.
I now only take them every other day and plan to slowly stop when the time is right. At the moment, they are doing a great job and I am forever glad I made that doctor’s appointment.”
“I don’t worry about things as much”
Imogen, 24, producer
“I started on antidepressants in May 2017 after I reached a point where I hit rock bottom. I was desperately crying every night and felt like there was no way out. I wasn’t hesitant about trying medication because I was just desperate for something to help.
When you have depression you feel really reluctant to tell anyone about it, but when you finally do tell a healthcare professional, you realise they see people like you all the time. My doctor has been great with following up with me and upping my dosage when needed and coming up with additional solutions.
I was first prescribed Citalopram but switched two months ago to Fluoxetine as it wasn’t working as well as I’d hoped. The new medication has definitely helped with my anxiety levels; the smallest thing used to make me spiral into despair and I’ve noticed a difference in that I don’t worry about things as much. I am not in any way ‘fixed’ and still have some way to go to get back to my old self but I hope that with time and therapy it will get better.
I feel reluctant to tell anyone who isn’t a close friend that I’m on antidepressants for fear of being judged as lesser, incapable, and unstable. People tend to pity me when I do tell them and act as if I’m really fragile. I think if we knew how many people were actually dealing with mental health issues, it would go some way to normalise it — we’re not different, we’re just dealing with different challenges.”
If you need any help or support for mental health issues or otherwise, visit the National Alliance On Mental Illness website.
This article originally appeared on Prevention US.
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