Why do we still frown upon antidepressants? — #MHAW17

This post was written for my 7 day mental health blog takeover, in support of #MHAW17.

I’d like to take a moment to dispel some myths about anti-depressants.

Let’s look, on a basic level as I am a girl with no science GCSE, at the four main types of antidepressants currently available on prescription in the UK and what they do to your brain.

Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

What they do: Prolong the action of serotonin in your brain.

Serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

What they do: Prolong the action of both serotonin and Norepinephrine in your brain.

Tricyclic antidepressants

What they do: First developed in the 1950s, these prolong the action of both serotonin and Norepinephrine in your brain through different means to the newer generation SNRIs.

Mono-amine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

What they do: Make it more difficult for an enzyme called monoamine oxidase (which breaks down serotonin and Norepinephrine) to  do its job, hence causing the chemicals to stay active in your brain for longer.

The root cause of depression itself is yet to be pinned down on something that can be easily treated with a one size fits all drug, but research over a number of years has found that anti-depressants targeting the chemicals mentioned above can reduce symptoms in some patients.

The medication on offer isn’t perfect, and one of the reasons charities campaign for greater research, but it is a potentially effective drug with a wider range of uses than its name may suggest.

Did you know that anti-depressants can also be used to reduce symptoms of anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and in some cases even physical pain? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

There is a view far too often shared that antidepressants artificially alter your brain in unneeded ways. They make you numb, they say. They rid you of your personality and are used as an unnecessary comfort blanket.

My experience could not be further from that assumption. My family has a history of mental illness, and I believe I have a genetic condition formed at a young age and exasperated over time. I have never been told by a professional in any certain terms that it is possible for me to cure my condition or life my life with zero symptoms, though I hope for that day.

When I turned to medication, I had absolutely no control over my illness. I was physically and mentally exhausted, and paralysed by fear from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep at night. I was at a life-threatening weight and unable to eat without the anxiety-induced constant sickness I was experiencing causing me to throw the food back up.

If it weren’t for Sertraline, I wouldn’t be here. It significantly reduced my overbearing symptoms of anxiety (including the sickness) and as a result enabled me to start eating and gradually increasing my weight. It wasn’t a cure, but it was far from unnecessary and extremely effective at treating symptoms beyond my control. 

There is no way that even the quickest of referrals to talking therapy, or an effort to ‘pull myself together’ would have helped me out. Medication was my best and only option in the short term to restore my physical health.

While I accept that antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to those with mild depression or stress when they might perhaps benefit more from talking therapy or other alternatives, the overall picture is vastly different.

Perhaps antidepressants get a bad press because mental illness is still not a priority for medical researchers and therefore not fully accepted by wider society as a genuine condition that requires thorough, suitable treatment.

The fact is, they are all me, you and Joe Bloggs have right now. They are not simply dished out like smarties by bored, lazy GPs but taken by people all over the world for an extremely wide variety of reasons. For some, they are a life saver. For others, they don’t work.

But one thing is for sure, they certainly shouldn’t be frowned upon.

emzae x

For much more information on antidepressants, visit this incredibly helpful resource created by the charity Mind.