7.3 million people in the UK were prescribed antidepressants in the year 2017/2018. That’s almost 1 in 10 people.
And I am one of them.
I’ve had anxiety for many years. I regularly went to the doctors because I was worried about aches and pains that I was feeling. I had numerous tests done but they all said that I was physically fine.
However, these tests didn’t allay my fears. I would still regularly have sleepless nights because I was scared there was something wrong with me.
I tried all sorts of weird and wonderful therapies in the hope that it would sort my head out. Acupuncture, hypnotherapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, meditation – none of these really made much difference. I even tried Bowen therapy, which was probably the strangest of the lot.
So after trying most other options my GP finally suggested I try antidepressants. I’ve been on Citalopram since February this year.
The theory is that the chemicals in my brain are imbalanced. Citalopram tries to redress that balance by increasing the amount of serotonin in my brain. It’s a type of antidepressant called an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) which basically means it stops the brain from re-absorbing serotonin.
Serotonin is thought to have a positive effect on mood. So hopefully if there is more of it in the brain the result should be good.
Has it helped me? Yes, indeed it has.
In fact, it is the only thing that has actually made a difference.
I seem to be less anxious now and I am certainly sleeping better. I fall asleep within half an hour whereas before I could lay awake for hours. Sleepless nights now only occur once a month, if that – before it was at least once a week. When I do wake up at night I can usually fall back to sleep very quickly. This is not something I could easily do beforehand.
I still have tight chests, headaches, and palpitations sometimes, but the difference is they don’t bother me as much as they used to. Now, I just seem to accept them and get on with whatever I am doing.
My anxiety has not disappeared completely. It’s still there in the back of my head but it doesn’t seem to come to the foreground as much as it used to. It’s like a sedated monster. Occasionally it might wake up but it’s a bit groggy and goes back to sleep relatively quickly.
I think I’m quite lucky that I haven’t experienced any negative side effects – and that the first antidepressant I’ve tried has helped me. I’ve read that it’s common to have to try a number of antidepressants before finding one that helps. And people often experience side effects from them.
It probably helps that my anxiety is relatively mild compared to some people. Those with severe depression or anxiety might not find the right medication for them as quickly as I did.
Unfortunately, there is still a stigma surrounding antidepressants.
Antidepressants are often viewed in the media as “happy pills” which are too easily dished out by doctors as a quick fix.
This is not helping people.
Of course, antidepressants shouldn’t be the first choice option for anxiety or depression, unless it’s a severe case. But antidepressants are a valid treatment option when other avenues don’t work.
The stigma discourages people with anxiety and depression from trying medication which could possibly help them. They fear that they will be labelled weak or accused of taking the “easy” option. Even if they have already tried non-medication therapies.
Studies have found that antidepressants DO work better than placebo and for a lot of people they have been life-saving. Some people have said they would probably have committed suicide if it hadn’t been for antidepressants. Or they may continue to suffer while other treatments fail to work for them.
Let’s be clear. Taking antidepressants does not mean you’re crazy. It does not mean you’re weak. It does not mean you’re lazy. These are harmful labels spouted by ignorant people who need to educate themselves on the issue.
If you have anxiety or depression my advice is that you should try talking therapies like CBT first. If that doesn’t work, then medication is worth considering.
Of course, antidepressants won’t work for everyone. But let’s stop the stigma surrounding antidepressants because for some people they are the only things that do work.