More like antidejessants, amiright? (Wow, tough crowd). So, you’ve made it to the doctors about your mental health – well done! You are now one step closer to recovery (go you!). One of the first things that will be recommended to you, are the dreaded antidepressants. Some people do well on them, others find them useless, it’s no wonder people are confused about them. In the post, we will navigate through a few humble truths about antidepressants.
Disclaimer! I am not a qualified doctor – whatever I say is based upon research, not a medical degree.
What Do They Even Do?
Well…if you were to check out the NHS’ webpage about antidepressants, you’d probably be in for a bit of a scare, since they outrightly say that it isn’t know exactly how antidepressants work (eek). But after looking for answers from other organisations, such as MayoClinic and Mind, they seem to have a clearer understanding on how they work.
In essence, antidepressants change our brain chemistry. When we’re happy, our brains release neurotransmitters called serotonin and noradrenaline (let’s think of these as our happy hormones). However, as we release these happy hormones, we also uptake them back to the brain (bye, bye happy times). Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), work by reducing the uptake of the happy hormones; making us feel happier for longer. So, all of those shows you’ve seen where antidepressants make people joyous and delirious are false (ugh) – they don’t make you happy, they make you feel happy for LONGER (happiness not included).
Where the confusion stands (and probably why the NHS is cautious), is that there isn’t much scientific evidence to suggest that illnesses like depression, are caused by a chemical imbalance. Thus, antidepressants on their own won’t work like an antibiotic, you need to find the root of the illness through therapy.
Do They Work?
As previously stated, antidepressants on their own will not cure you of your mental illnesses, but can make things a little easier. There have been studies that compare the effectiveness of antidepressants against a placebo pill, to see if the placebo affect can also improve one’s happiness. The Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK did a study like this, and concluded that up to 65% of people taking antidepressants showed improvements, in contrast to just 30% of placebo takers.
When you first start taking antidepressants, you need to prepare yourself for side effects. You can’t really go full ham on these bad boys, more so, you have to ease into it, and the first two weeks of taking them can be rough. Antidepressants can cause an array of side effects, such as:
- Feeling irritated
- Stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
- Low sex drive and inability to orgasm
- Suicidal thoughts and feelings
The side effects do ware off after the two week mark, and at that point your GP will call you back in to talk about how you’re faring on them. You won’t see an affect for a little while though, so it might be a good idea to stick with your initial medication to see if its the one for you. That being said, if you feel as though the antidepressant or the dosage you’re on isn’t working for you, your GP can recommend a different one.
My History of Antidepressants
When I decided that I needed to start taking control of my mental illnesses (see New Year, Old Me for some backstory), I went to see my GP. I was incredibly fortunate enough to get allocated a lovely doctor, who was very understanding and non-judgemental (miss ya Deb). Initially, I didn’t want to go on antidepressants straight the way, for three reasons:
- I didn’t know enough about them
- I was delusional and though that the NHS would be wonderful and provide adequate therapy (oh how wrong I was)
- I knew people on them who had experienced negative side effects
After a week of feeling shitty, I ended up going back to Deb and asking for the drugs. I started off on Sertraline, which is a very common starter antidepressant, and it kinda sets the benchmark as to what medication you’ll be on long-term. I experienced some of the aforementioned side effects, like insomnia, irritability, low sex drive, headaches; as well, I couldn’t drink for a while which put a damper on my social life. A month later, I still didn’t get the proper therapy I needed and ended up seeing a university counsellor. Counselling was excellent, but unfortunately Mrs. May and her bambling bumbling band of baboons (aka MPs) haven’t provided enough funding for this kind of service, so I only had three hours worth of sessions. Eventually, the insomnia was the kicker for me. There’s nothing worse than spending all night wrestling with your horrible thoughts, to then spend the next day wrestling with the same bad thoughts saying “Well maybe if you’d slept, you wouldn’t feel like this” (screw you brain).
Now, I am on a noradrenaline and specific serotonergic antidepressant (NASSAs), called Mirtazapine. NASSAs work similarly to SSRIs, but don’t affect your sex drive and can cause drowsiness – meaning this gal can get her beauty sleep. It has been 8 months since I started my treatment, and I still haven’t had any therapy (thanks Mrs. May), but I now have an antidepressant that works for me…so yay?
Featured Image Credit 📷: Paweł Czerwiński