Are Antidepressants for You?
If you have been diagnosed with depression, you have probably asked yourself: are antidepressants for you? Your doctor can give you the medical facts, the ins and outs of being medicated, but there are always some persistent fears. Medication is one of a variety of options you can use to combat depression, but here are some of the pros, cons, and full-blown myths of taking antidepressants.
Why Should You Take Them?
The main benefit of antidepressants is in the name itself: anti- depression. While it certainly cannot solve all the issues that may contribute to your depression, studies have shown that those who do take pills experience reduced symptoms and are less likely to relapse into another depressive episode. Not only do they help the feelings of helplessness, irritability, and worthlessness, but physiological symptoms of depression such as difficulty sleeping, fatigue, and pain will also begin to subside. Often times if you are experiencing severe depression, medication can give you just the edge you need to start self regulating or participating in therapy. Not sure of the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist? Be sure to get the help you really need.
Generally though, despite all the benefits antidepressants can provide, it is the possible side effects, social stigmas, and myths (that will be debunked later on) that make people think twice. In spite of the side effects we will go into, remember: everyone is different.
Types of Antidepressants and their Side Effects
SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor)
Some antidepressants cause weight gain or a lack of sexual drive, sedation, or even an increase in suicidal thoughts. Different antidepressants are known for different side effects. For example, SSRI’s can cause nausea, insomnia, dizziness, weight fluctuation, tremors, sweating, anxiety, drowsiness, and headaches. However, they are still the most common antidepressant prescribed to those with Major Depressive Disorder because the prevalence of these side effects is generally pretty low. Amongst most antidepressants, SSRI’s are the least risky.
Another common category of medicines is Tricyclics, which block the reuptake of not just serotonin like the SSRI’s, but also norepinephrine and dopamine, two other important neurotransmitters in the brain which affect the patient’s propensity to mood changes (what are the different types are neurotransmitters?). Because they work with more chemicals, the chances of side effects are higher. However, some studies say that because they work with more mechanisms, they are more effective than the slightly less risky SSRIs.
Another major class of antidepressants is MAOIs, or Monoamine oxidase inhibitors. These are the oldest types of antidepressants, but are not as commonly used nowadays because of their many possible interactions. MAOIs combined with certain drinks and foods can result in high blood pressure, stroke, or even a heart attack, in addition to many side effects that are possible with SSRI’s. If your doctor were to ever prescribe a MAO inhibitor, you would need to be very careful of what you put in your body. Your normal comfort foods such as cheese, chocolate, wine, or even beer may have to go on your ‘do-not-touch’ list.
All this being said, you and your doctor should think critically about whether antidepressants are for you. If you do decide to try medications, chances are you are going to need to try a few before you get it just right.
Is Social Stigma Stopping You?
The truth of the matter is, however, that most patients probably already know these pros and cons and have some sense of whether they want to try antidepressants or not. If you are leaning towards ‘yes’, then the thing that may be stopping you is simple: Social Stigma. There are plenty of myths and factually inaccurate tidbits about antidepressants that are floating around, created by society, that scare people away from the treatment that they want and need. So let’s tackle these myths and get the irrational fears out of the way.
Is it “Fake Happiness”?
The simple answer is no. Antidepressants do not make you happy, what they do is correct the chemical imbalance that already exists in your brain. Scientists believe that many depressive episodes are caused by a decrease in the neurotransmitter serotonin transporter or the receptor. Therefore, psychiatrists prescribe pills to correct this serotonin imbalance, such as SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). They do not induce happiness, but adjust the neurotransmitters in your brain until they reach normal functioning levels.
Will I become addicted?
This is highly unlikely. Unlike alcohol, cocaine, or other drugs, there is no evidence to show that antidepressants such as SSRI’s cause addiction. They do not cause cravings or require an increased amount to get the same effect. However, quitting cold turkey without consulting your doctor is not advised. Flu-like symptoms, headaches, or nausea are some of the side effects of not weaning yourself off them properly.
Will I have to take it forever?
This particular relationship between you and your antidepressant doesn’t need to be forever and always. Many people take pills for just several months during a depressive episode. However, taking antidepressants for a period of time after the symptoms have improved has been shown to help you not relapse. Bottom line is, if you relapse into depression several times it may not be the worst thing to have long-term antidepressant treatment.
I can just take them when I need it, right?
Nope- antidepressants aren’t a Tylenol or Ibuprofen. You can’t pop a couple every once in a while when you are feeling particularly blue. Antidepressants take weeks to properly balance the chemicals and to have beneficial results, and not taking them regularly can have adverse effects like nausea and dizziness. So the answer to this myth is simple: make the commitment or don’t, because it will not do you any favors to mess with your brain chemistry.
Am I weak?
This is one of the most common concerns, and is completely untrue. You are not weak. If you needed glasses to see perfectly you would not call yourself weak, so why judge yourself for taking medications? All they are doing is correcting your chemicals so you function optimally- just like glasses. Spare yourself the judgment and don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.
Will it change who I am?
If you’re looking for a “Whole New You”, antidepressants aren’t going to do that. People are often afraid that pills will affect their identity or personality and completely change who they are just because they work with brain chemistry. Antidepressants are actually designed to balance your chemistry so you return to your normal personality. You may start to feel more emotionally stable, less antagonistic, more sociable- but this doesn’t mean you are a new person. You are just returning to the person you were supposed to be.
These just account for some of the medical folklore behind antidepressants, but there is plenty more that you should clarify with your doctor. Not sure what the difference is between a psychologist and psychiatrist? If you have discussed the benefits and drawbacks of all the different types of medicinal treatments available and decide that antidepressants are for you, remember that it takes some time to work. They are not miracle pills- it often takes several weeks to see results, adjust dosages, or switch to a different medication. Even then, often times medicine on it’s own is not enough to deal with the environmental or situational causes of your depression. If you want to see the best results, a combination of medicine and therapy should be a good start on your road to recovery from depression.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t find the right antidepressant the first time. Give it time to work, and talk to your doctor about any side effects.
Do you have any questions? Leave me comment below 🙂
Deepti is a writer that specialises in neuroscience and psychology. She is passionate about modern medicine and finding other therapeutic techniques, and how both of these effect the developing brain. Deepti is extremely interested in the future of mental health awareness and treatment, and is always open to advice.