Attitudes to depression medication

Some of the people we talked with resisted taking antidepressants, and some stopped taking their medication, even after the medication seemed to be working. People knew others who suffered considerable side effects from antidepressants, and so felt negative about medication. One woman saw depression as a sign of weakness, and resisted taking antidepressants for some time because she thought 'I'm better than this, I can do this, I can beat this.' Others had no problems taking antidepressants. This was particularly true of people who felt well and suffered few if any side effects on the newer antidepressants (see 'Newer anti-depressants medication: SSRI's and SNRI's'). One man said, “I'm certainly not one of those people who thinks 'Oh God, there's some kind of poison in my body.' It's like no, it makes me feel better”.

Interestingly, not only did the newer antidepressants have less stigma than older drugs, but some people even thought them fashionable. Newer antidepressants like Prozac had had much press coverage in recent decades. While not all the press has been positive, as one woman said, her experience was of an horrendous depression and then the “amazing lifting power” of Prozac. Needless to say, she did not believe the bad reports. Some were concerned that doctors prescribe antidepressants too readily, pointing out that antidepressants were serious and powerful drugs, and depression was not simply a sad mood (see 'Experiencing depression').

Several people felt significant improvement through medication was evidence that a chemical imbalance in the brain had caused their depression. Just as some people had diabetes and so lacked insulin, some felt their brains lacked chemicals like serotonin. Nevertheless, even those who believed in the chemical imbalance theory felt that learned behaviours contributed to depression and so thought talking therapies were helpful.

People who considered they had chemical imbalances in the brain were sometimes reluctant to come off their medication. After all, medication was seen as balancing brain chemicals. Also, the fear and dread of depression was such that people did not want to come off medication if it risked another episode.

One man described 'panic' at the thought of coming off his medication. While some people had doctors (especially psychiatrists) who agreed they should be on medication for the rest of their lives, others felt that they had to persuade their doctor. Others worried more that long-term use of antidepressants could damage the brain, and were keen to work with their doctors to stop their medication.

Several people had decided to take an antidepressant over long periods even though there could be longer-term problems later. They did this because 'life is going by in the meantime' and they wanted to live life more fully. One woman said 'it is not in my nature to take tablets', but took an antidepressant because she 'could just see the rest of my life going ahead of me' and medication 'had given my life back'. Nevertheless, many long-term users believed that medication should go hand-in-hand with counselling.

For more information on antidepressants see our website on ‘Experiences of antidepressants’

Last reviewed September 2017.
Last updated April 2015.


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