While the use of antidepressants is on the rise, I found that no-one really sat and talked me through the potential side effects of taking any drugs for mental health, beyond a warning that they may make symptoms worse before they got better. Something that leads me to believe people are being prescribed a drug without really knowing the drawbacks vs benefits.
Whether you choose to take them or not is totally up to you. I do not encourage the use one way or another, but I do think if you do end up taking them it is so important to use them properly. It took me 4 years of starting and stopping different types before I found one that worked well for me. Previously I would take them when things were at the absolute worst and then stop as soon as I felt better, no gradual tapering or doctor led advice to reduce the dose. I would just wake up one morning and decide I felt fine and didn’t need them anymore, or that I couldn’t handle the side effects any longer. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS. Withdrawal symptoms are awful, unless you enjoy zappy headaches, dizziness, aching, absolute exhaustion and worse mental health than before you started taking them.
It probably held back my recovery from anorexia and bulimia a huge amount, as well as preventing me from achieving any form of mental stability as I was essentially never letting my brain chemistry settle. There are so many points in my life that I look back on and I know for a fact I could have gained more from the experience, job, training etc had I been in a more stable state of mind, one that I know now can only be achieved with the right medication and dose.
Medication does not outright cure mental illness. However, it may help with the management of symptoms. Medication paired with psychotherapy is the most effective way to promote recovery.
Common physical side effects:
- increased appetite and weight gain
- loss of sexual desire and other sexual problems, such as erectile dysfunction and decreased orgasm
- fatigue and drowsiness
- dry mouth
- blurred vision
- agitation and irritability
- excessive sweating
Common mental side effects:
- insomnia and vivid or disturbing dreams
- increase in suicidal thoughts (most common in under 25’s)
- increased desire to self harm
My experience with antidepressants:
This was originally written in 2016 when I was at one of the lowest places I have ever been, with bulimia totally out of control and constantly coping with suicidal thoughts and the worst depression I have been through.
Most of this year is a blur.
- Go to the doctor, a trainee sits in on the consultation and you’re too exhausted to even ask why, in fact it is hard to find words at all.
- Take 30 mins to choke out that you aren’t okay. That you can’t cope. Please make this go away.
- Pay for pills with a bank account that’s red lined and wondering in some distant part of your head if your card will be declined. And if you even care.
- Taking the first and feeling a headache in the back of your head, the part that feels white and fuzzy when you smoke or drink too much.
- Food no longer tastes of anything.
- No urge to binge as you don’t feel anything much anymore.
- Can’t even tell if you’re hungry.
- Slurring words slightly, loosing track of sentences, friend asking if you’re feeling okay.
- Giggling uncontrollably for an hour then forgetting how to speak.
- Come close to crashing the car 4 times in one journey, as other cars don’t register. Not in this little bubble of fuzz you now exist in.
- Getting a nipple pierced because you don’t really believe this is you and actions don’t seem real. Consequences aren’t there because time and the future are something vague and shadowy far from reach.
- Each day is slightly better and easier. Body adjusts to the meds and the mood swings, and you then become hyper aware of the permanent knot of fear in your stomach, the one you binge, purge and starve away.
- The core wisp of darkness sneaks out of hiding, wraps itself around your thoughts and says “I’m here to stay”.
- Exhausted by the feelings you can’t control or explain you fall into bed at a time when most people are only eating dinner.
- You close your eyes and watch the usual parade of nightmare shapes in your head.
- Then feel like you’re falling, limbs all light and shaking.
- Then it goes black.
- And you wonder in some distant part of your head if you will wake again.
The positives of antidepressants:
For all the doom and gloom of the previous sections there are a number of positives too.
- Reduction in symptoms: This is an obvious one really as it is what antidepressants are designed to do, but the effect on the right medication can be life changing. My life before I found the right dose and drug is worlds apart from how it is now.
- Increased ability to concentrate: I can now read, watch films, hold a conversation, etc without a constant background fog and for longer than 5 minutes. My recall is better and I can actually form my own opinions beyond a simple yes or no.
- Increased ability to apply tools from therapy: I have tried therapy while off medication, and while there were some benefits, I am much more able to engage when my brain is functioning properly and I can actually use the tools I have been taught. It is much easier to talk about emotions and thoughts when you actually have some that go beyond “thoroughly miserable” and “feeling like a failure”.
On my worst days I can still manage to eat something other than junk food, walk the dog and do something other than sleep. Even if that something is just watching TV. In short medication gave me the ability to live and almost normal life and for the time being I will continue to use it until I feel ready to try and live without it.
There is no shame in needing medication, the brain is an organ just like any other and sometimes it needs a little external help.
Do you have any experiences with taking medication for mental health? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or on social media.