Everyone experiences depression in a unique way and it’s crucial to get the treatment that works for you. Here are some important things to consider before taking antidepressants.
It might take a while to find the right meds for you
Think about the variety of ways in which different people react to alcohol — the happy drunk, the weepy drunk, the sleepy drunk. Two people can take the same antidepressant and have wildly different reactions. When you first begin antidepressants, be sensitive to your body and mind and the ways in which they are reacting to the medication. If you experience any negative side effects, contact your doctor at once. Be prepared to try several different antidepressants before you find one that suits you… and this can take a long time, as the medication can take weeks to have a positive effect on your mood. If you decide the current pills aren’t working for you, you’ll also have to wait a week for the medication to leave your body before starting a new type.
GPs aren’t always your best bet
If you suspect you might have a mood or personality disorder that goes beyond simple depression, do not take any medication until you’ve been properly diagnosed. Those with mood disorders like bipolarity can have violent reactions to standard antidepressants, including suicidal impulses and manic behaviour. Often it’s difficult to convince GPs to do anything more than write you a prescription and wave you goodbye, but it’s vital that you don’t endanger yourself. If in doubt, see a psychiatrist — they know far more about medicating mental health problems than your average GP. If you can’t get an NHS referral, go private.
They work better when used alongside therapy
Studies have shown that the most effective way to combat depression is through a combination of therapy and medication, not medication alone. The NHS tend to offer CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) but different styles of therapy suit different mental health problems and CBT may not fit your needs. Do some research. Practitioners of therapeutic styles like psychoanalysis, which requires a very rigorous training, tend to be expensive but often there are reduced rates for low-income clients and/or the fee is negotiable. Most therapists offer an assessment beforehand so you can suss them out before committing to anything.
One of the most infamous side effects of antidepressants is decreased libido, and this often extends to reduced genital sensation and inability to orgasm. Of course this is a worst case scenario, but it’s likely that sexual side effects will affect you to some extent, and they are among the last things to go back to normal after you stop taking medication. It’s not uncommon to discontinue antidepressants after only a few days and not get full sensation back for months. Before starting a course of any antidepressant, consider whether this is a price you’re willing to pay.
You might be prepared for the emotional side effects of discontinuing antidepressants, but (like many types of long-term medication) they can also cause physical withdrawal. Common symptoms include headaches and involuntary tooth grinding, which can go on for months. The exception to this is fluoxetine (better known as Prozac) and it tends to be the first thing your GP prescribes for this reason. If you’re planning to stop taking antidepressants, do not go cold turkey. Phase them out gradually for a more comfortable transition.
Remember: antidepressants can be extraordinarily helpful for some, and not at all for others. The most important thing is to look after yourself, and treat your mental illness in the way that works best for you.