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It’s Time To End The Stigma Around Antidepressants

by : Niamh Shackleton on : 03 Feb 2021 15:25
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The stigma surrounding antidepressants could be partially to blame for only half of those with mental health conditions receiving treatment.

By no means should antidepressants be seen as a way of fixing disorders such as anxiety and depression, but the medication can prove vital in alleviating some of the harrowing symptoms mental heath illnesses can have on people.

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Sadly there are negative connotations connected to taking to antidepressants, despite them being beneficial for some. The question is, if someone isn’t judged for taking antibiotics or painkillers for a physical condition, why is this often the case for those taking antidepressants?

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Dr Samar Mahmood believes the stigma is down to misinformation surrounding the medication. He told UNILAD, ‘Stigma always stems from a lack of understanding about something, and the same applies to antidepressants. Some people continue to have the wrong impression that these medications are addictive, or that adverse side effects are commonplace, or that being on medication might somehow affect future job opportunities.’

Dr Mahmood continued:

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Some people also feel that accepting a prescription implies defeat, as though they were not ‘strong enough’ to get well without a tablet – however, as we know, ability to cope with a mental illness is not a measure of resilience.

Dr Mahmood is a GP who has personally prescribed antidepressants to his patients, many of whom have gone on to see the advantages of taking them.

He explained, ‘There are certain people with anxiety or depression who benefit from antidepressants and I have seen a huge number of my patients improve after taking them. In my experience, proven benefits – based on actual patient feedback – include sleeping better, fewer negative thoughts, improved concentration and a more stable mood.’

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However, Dr Mahmood also highlighted the importance of people not using antidepressants as a ‘go-to’ to help their mental health, because as well as antidepressants working for some, ‘there are also those in whom these medications do not help and it must be remembered that antidepressants should not be seen as a universal go-to treatment option for anyone with a mental illness’. He added, ‘Prescriptions are done on a case-by-case basis following a detailed discussion between patient and healthcare provider.’

One person who has benefitted from taking antidepressants is Henry Nash, who has been taking them for two years.

Henry saw a spike in his anxiety after moving to London, telling UNILAD, ‘I suffer mainly from anxiety and chronic depersonalisation with blips of depression. Coming from a small village in rural Warwickshire to London for university in 2017 just seemed to spike my anxiety and then I was introduced to drugs like cocaine and MDMA which just prolonged the issue.’

‘I had my first panic attack after a night out and from that point I just didn’t know how to process my anxieties. The main reason I began taking antidepressants is because of my heavy drug use as I was unable to get myself through it using more natural ways like meditation and therapy,’ he said.

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In the end, Henry went to visit his doctor, and they discussed the option of antidepressants. Henry found that they didn’t work for him at first and came off them after a couple of weeks after seeing no results. It’s important to note that the time the medication starts to work will vary from person to person.

He later gave them a second try, and has now been on them for two years after seeing his mood improve.

Discussing the stigmas surrounding antidepressants, Henry told UNILAD:

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I think people are becoming more and more excepting of wide use of anti-depressants, especially during the pandemic where most people know at least one person struggling with their mental health.

At the end of of the day, I believe anything that is proven to improve someone’s mental health in one way or another should be used with no stigma.

Amy Tickle began having panic attacks as a teenager. She then suffered a slipped disc in her jaw while doing her A-levels and says that her depression started then because, as a performer, it prevented her singing.

Amy explained, ‘Not being able to sing hit me hard as it was what made me the happiest. I was never fantastic at singing but I would do it anywhere and everywhere. I didn’t know much about anxiety and depression because no one ever talked about it but it was only when I went to London to drama school in 2015 that I started not being able to wake up or physically take myself into a setting which I once loved.’

Amy then made an appointment with her doctor where she was prescribed antidepressants but, potentially as a result of taking them with propanol and diazepam, said ‘that period of life was such a blur [she] doesn’t even remember taking it’. As a consequence, she came off the medication.

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Amy, who’s seen as ‘happy and smiley’ to others, worried about what people would think if they knew she was taking antidepressants but, after a couple of years of ups and downs, she decided at the beginning of 2021 that she’d start taking them again.

Speaking about how she feels since going back on medication, Amy told UNILAD, ‘I feel more energised and calm so far! I literally have been waking up and feeling ready for the day. I feel a bit more like my old self and kind of regret not being back on them sooner.’

Laurissa Hackett started taking antidepressants as a teenager after suffering panic attacks ‘multiple times a day’. She was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 2016, and was prescribed medication to help.

While she initially felt embarrassed to have been prescribed antidepressants, she explained:

I felt embarrassed that I needed to rely on medication to make me feel ‘normal’ but I’d reached a point of desperation that it was a matter of life or death.

It took me that long to accept that I needed help and I couldn’t deal with it on my own. At first I was very secretive about it, I only told my parents and my closest friends because I knew no one would fully understand unless they had been through it themselves.

She has since stayed on her medication and, despite people asking when she plans on coming off it, says she doesn’t know when and if she ever will. Laurissa explained, ‘I found people around me asking things like ‘how long will you be on them for?’ and ‘are you coming off them soon?’ The truth is I have no idea if/when I will be ready to stop taking them.’

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She added:

I found myself lying to people saying that I would be coming off them soon saying it just ‘hadn’t been the right time’ just so they would stop asking me. The truth is, there is no ‘right time’ to stop taking them, other than when you know in yourself that you are ready.

Like Dr Mahmood, Laurissa believes the stigma surrounding antidepressants stems from a lack of education on them. ‘I think it is so important to educate people about mental health problems and the effects of taking antidepressants. Many people think it is a ‘quick fix’ or that you will become addicted to them if you take them for too long, however my medication is only a fraction of how I treat my mental health.’

In regards to there being any long-term effects of taking antidepressants and their side effects – one of which is not thought to be addiction as antidepressants don’t have addictive qualities – Dr Mahmood says that while there are some, they’re quite uncommon.

He told UNILAD:

There are certain short-term and long-term side effects that can affect the physical and even the mental health. These range from mild, e.g. tiredness, to more significant, such as inflammation of the lining of the stomach. Nevertheless, adverse side effects are on the whole uncommon, and the more common effects tend to be mild and/or short-lived.

Dr Mahmood continued, ‘The doctor prescribing the medication can go through the potential side effects and then a mutual decision can be reached about the best course of action.’

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On why the stigma around taking antidepressants should be ended, Dr Mahmood added, ‘It would give people the confidence to take the medication if it is recommended to them by a professional, to allow mental health sufferers to be able to have an open and honest conversation with their healthcare provider about their treatment options and it would empower people to be able to talk to their friends/family – if they choose to – about their treatment without feeling embarrassed about it.’

According to Public Health England, as of two years ago, 7.3 million people in England were prescribed antidepressants and, if you are – or were – one of those millions, you have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.

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Niamh Shackleton

Niamh Shackleton is a pint sized person and journalist at UNILAD. After studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford, she did a year at Caters News Agency as a features writer in Birmingham before deciding that Manchester is (arguably) one of the best places in the world, and therefore moved back up north. She's also UNILAD's unofficial crazy animal lady.

Topics: Featured, Mental Health