Experiences of antidepressants

Antidepressants: talking to family and friends

People who experience depression often find it difficult to talk openly to others and worry about what others would think. Many said it had taken a long time, and a lot of courage to talk to their doctor for the first time, and that they hadn’t always told friends or family. Often when people said they had told others that they had depression, they were surprised to find people were sympathetic and supportive. The people we spoke to seemed to be more inclined to talk about depression itself, rather than disclose they were taking an antidepressant to others. Catherine said, ‘It’s not a question you’re ever asked, it never really comes up at all’. Sometimes friends and family found out because they saw the packet of medicine in the house and asked about it.
 
Family relationships 
Lucy X had been prescribed Prozac (fluoxetine) as a teenager but hadn’t wanted her parents to know. In hindsight though she felt it would have been better if they had known ‘I should have told my parents because it meant they couldn’t give me any support... and I think they felt very rejected that I’d made this decision to like, to lie to them... to sort of deceive them’ as an adult she is more open with them and understands more how they feel. ‘I think they’d like me to not take the medication... because they want me to be better... my medication implies there’s an illness and I think they just don’t want me to have the illness.’ Greg’s parents think he is right to take them if they help him feel happy and healthy. ‘They’ve supported me in whatever I do… they would rather me take pills than me cut myself’. Some people said they would talk about it if it came up in conversation but wouldn’t make a point of doing so. 
Some people had shared experiences about using antidepressants with relatives who they knew had taken them themselves. Stephen had found it reassuring knowing his father had taken them and they compared notes. ’He was on a different one; I’m not sure which one he was on. He was on it for a very, very short time about... we sort of compared side effects’. But Emily said although she knew some of her relatives had taken them, it wasn’t spoken about. ‘One of the interesting things is I’ve found out... over a year after I started the medication... after I’d come off it, the same year - my father and my sister were both on anti-depressant medication’. Reasons for not telling others about being on antidepressants varied for example Emily said her father was ‘a very private person’ and others hadn’t wanted to worry their families. People said others associated taking antidepressants with ‘craziness’ or ‘that you were ‘mental’. Clare’s husband jokingly referred to her antidepressants as her ‘mad pills’.
 
People in long term relationships said their husband, wife or partner were usually supportive and understanding. Lou’s husband seemed relieved that she had found an antidepressant that works for her and that they helped her feel more able to cope. ‘He’s not the kind of person that’s hugely into sharing and talking and things like that but... he clearly doesn’t think it’s a bad idea because he never said oh no you don’t want to take antidepressants’. 
Knowing when or whether to tell a new partner can be difficult. Gerry is open about it ‘It was very important to me with my current girlfriend to be honest and open about that because it basically defines me in a relationship now’. Olivia X’s told her boyfriend she was taking them when he came across the packet of tablets ‘He said ‘what are these?’ and it was just after we’d started dating. So I actually told him, I told him what they were and I explained why, he was cool with it he was fine’. 
Taking an antidepressant can affect one’s sex life, with side effects such as loss of libido, or inability to climax which can be difficult to talk about with a partner. Stuart had spoken about it with his wife, but it can be a difficult topic to discuss. Sharon said that most antidepressants she had tried had ‘shut off’ her sexual feelings which had caused problems, but that feeling well was more important to her. ‘I wasn't too upset because I knew that was a side effect... I think for my husband it was probably quite frustrating and I did spend time explaining to him that it wasn't him, it was the medication you know, it's part and parcel of having that and the higher the dosage the worse it got’. Steve told his new boyfriend he was taking an antidepressant and would have liked him to have asked more about the reasons, but was glad he hadn’t got a negative reaction, ‘It was just that easy, there was nothing like, it was nothing tough. If I’m really honest though when I talk about it he is quite blasé about it, he’s quite good at getting on with life’.
 
Friends and social life 
Lucy Y is open about taking an antidepressant with close friends and they sometimes ask her for advice. People sometimes worry that others might be critical or make judgements about them. Lou feels it’s important to be open. ‘I don’t feel any particular shame, in fact I that the more people talk about antidepressants as a positive thing the better’. Charlotte’s close friends know she takes antidepressants. ‘Some said... oh you don’t need to take them you just, you know, pull your finger out there’s nothing wrong with you, [but] most people were really understanding about it, didn’t judge me whatsoever.’ Sonia has a friend who also suffers from depression who she can talk to, but doesn’t tell most friends. ‘I don’t want them to think of me in that way’. Olivia Y said she was careful about who she told. ‘I was embarrassed and I thought I would be stigmatised, absolutely. My close friends knew I was taking them but it’s not something I would shout about’. 
Very often socialising with friends involves going to the pub or places where it’s customary to drink alcohol. People had different attitudes about whether or not they drank alcohol when they were taking an antidepressant. The guidance generally is that it’s safest to avoid drinking alcohol because some antidepressants can interact with it. Alcohol increases the sedative effects of tricycles and may also increase the sedative effects of SSRIs. With MAOIs, you should completely avoid certain alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks that contain tyramine.
 
Not drinking alcohol had triggered awkward questions in some situations. Lucy X’s friends asked her why she wasn’t drinking ‘I couldn’t drink and so I think that’s why it came up was they asked why and I said, ‘I can’t drink it because I’m taking medication’ and then obviously being my close friends they wanted to know what and what was happening’. Lucy Y said it was relatively easy to make excuses about not drinking when she was at university because often people were more careful if they had an essay to write or an exam coming up. 
Several people had continued to drink alcohol whilst they were taking an antidepressant because it was a part of their social life. Greg felt it was unrealistic to stop drinking completely especially if you have to take an antidepressant for a long period of time. He felt that avoiding going out drinking would isolate him from his friends, and make him more depressed. ‘You want to go out and have a drink with your friends ... I want to live my life normally - and ‘normally’ means going to the pub’. Not everyone noticed adverse effects from alcohol, but Victoria found it affected her. ‘I was absolutely all over the place after one drink’. Greg said, ‘One drink felt like ten drinks’ and that he had blacked out on a couple of occasions. Steve had continued drinking alcohol, and said if his doctor had suggested stopping ‘I would have ignored him’. Charlotte had not been given any advice about it by her doctor but recalled the patient leaflet had advised caution. ‘I’ve always ignored that and carried on going out with friends or whatever drinking... fortunately it’s never had a negative effect on me. (See also 'Antidepressants and work', ‘Coping with antidepressant side effects’ and ‘The Patient Information leaflet’).

Last reviewed June 2016.
​Last updated June 2016.

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