Antidepressants: The Myths, The Stigma, and the Truth

What it is (and isn’t) like to take mood-altering medicine

Poor mental health is something that affects us all from time-to-time. Whether in the form of clinically diagnosed depression or sporadic bouts of anxiety, nobody is immune to negative emotion. Sometimes, life gets tough, and sometimes, the weight becomes too much to carry.

We all have our ways of coping feelings of depression. For some, it might be meditation or mindful relaxation. For others, its physical exertion - boxing, running, hitting the gym. And sometimes, none of that seems to help at all. Sometimes medical intervention might be the only way forward.

Whether you’re about to start taking antidepressants or have been using them for a long time, this article is for you. Let it serve as a ray of hope and familiarity, guiding you along the road ahead.

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Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

Separating Myth From Fact

Everybody has heard of antidepressants, but not everybody has taken them. Naturally, the latter category of people often resort to making misguided assumptions about what these medicines are, what they do and how they can help people with depression.

This leaves the rest of us pretty confused when it comes to finding any real answers -  so let’s run through some common myths and fears surrounding antidepressants, as well as identifying the truth.

‘Antidepressants only make you forget about your problems rather than actually deal with them.’

Antidepressants don’t make you forget about your problems. They put you in a better state of mind to cope with and ultimately confront your problems. They help to clear the fog a little, allowing you to see the world more clearly for what it is rather than what your anxious mind believes it to be.

‘Antidepressants turn you into a zombie and change your personality.’

Unless you take them incorrectly, antidepressants will not turn you into a zombie. Quite the opposite, actually. They simply help to rebalance the chemicals and neurotransmitters in your brain to help you feel more human again. Indeed, some medications can cause feelings of apathy - but if that happens, there are many of other options to try that may be more suited to your body.

‘If I start taking antidepressants, I’ll never be able to stop.’

Typically, patients beginning a course of antidepressants will be advised to take them regularly for 6-12 months, after which point they will work with their therapist to wean off them safely. If you start taking antidepressants, you will not have to take them for a lifetime - just until you’re ready to cope without them.

What’s it Like to Take Antidepressants?

Experiences with antidepressants can vary. Typically, it can take around 4-6 weeks for patients to begin to feel a significant benefit - some feel an impact much sooner, and some feel no benefit and have to try various different medications until they find the right fit for them.

Generally speaking, users of antidepressants can start to feel worse in the beginning before feeling better. This is largely because patients take some time to adjust to the side effects of their medication.

Although newer drugs like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) usually have fewer or less severe side effects than tricyclic antidepressants, various side effects can still occur with all interventive medications.

The direct feelings induced by antidepressant drugs differ from individual to individual, but most patients describe a general awareness of their mood ‘lifting’ - noticing the heaviness lift and a feeling of relaxation.

Adjusting to Antidepressants

It can take some time to adjust to taking antidepressants. Sometimes people find it necessary to take some time off work in order to allow themselves to adapt to the subsequent side effects and changes in mood.

Once this introductory period has been passed, though, the vast majority of antidepressant users are able to live wholly normal lives, returning to work and maintaining their relationships with a renewed sense of clarity, balance, and peace of mind.

While starting to take interventive medication may seem daunting at first, it doesn’t need to be. There are many other people in your position, and with the right information, guidance, and mindset, antidepressants may just provide the little push that you need to get back on track again.