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Depression and low mood (young people)

Antidepressants

Antidepressive medication can be an effective treatment for depression and is also used for young people. Particular types of antidepressants are used for those under the age of 18. Most people who take an antidepressant after 2-3 weeks of starting the medication will experience an improvement in symptoms of depression. Like any medicines, antidepressants can have side effects which can vary greatly between individuals and types of medicines.

The decisions about medicine taking should always be made together with the doctor and it is important never to stop taking an antidepressant without talking with the doctor first.

Several young people we spoke with had been on antidepressants. Their experiences varied hugely; some said it had been the “best thing” they’d ever done, some found them of no help at all or had suffered bad side effects and a few said they had made no difference either way.

Deciding to go on an antidepressant – or not
Many people told us that beforehand they’d had a lot of reservations about taking antidepressants. Some had heard about negative experiences from their friends, or family members. They worried about becoming reliant on medicine and not being able to live without it once started.
 
A few people had refused the option of antidepressants, either because they again worried about becoming “addicted” to them, or because they just didn’t want a medical intervention.
 

Stacey decided not to start taking medication because she was worried about getting “hooked” on...

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Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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They’ve gave me some paranoia and anxiety tablets, when I, but I never took ‘. I don’t take ‘ I was scared of what they’re gonna do to me. Because like a lot of people have told me that you can get hooked on tablets. And I was thinking oh, do you know what I mean? Just, just being paranoid about that, just getting scared about that didn’t like, if I took a tablet, and then I forgot to take the rest, I were thinking what would it do to me? Would it? Do you know what I mean? Would it make me worse than ever when I do take the tablets, what would it do to me? Just being paranoid again, worried about what’s going to happen.
 

Blondel says for her antidepressants feel “artificial” and she wants to “feel happy on my own”.

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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Well just feels like you know any any tablet, you know medication it makes you feel something that’s artificial, and I want to get to a point where I feel happy on my own, I don’t want to have to rely on pharmaceuticals to feel happy.
 
And you know it’s something that I want to work to get there on my own, it’s you know, it’s going to be a lot harder but I don’t want to get to the point where I’m relying on them and feeling now if I come off of these then I’m gonna be miserable again. I’d rather not rely on medication. I want to get better on my own. And then I have to accept now that that’s gonna take a hell of a lot longer. But there’s no quick fix with depression. It’s something you have to work on.
 
Did you find any help from them at all, since you started, have they made any difference at all?
 
They can make you know you’re your moods, they, they you know they’re up and down anyway with depression, but, you know the anti-depressants sometimes they, they can help, other times they don’t. I think it really depends you know what kind of day you’re having. But I don’t feel they’ve ever you know, they’re not a miracle cure, but they can suppress the feelings sometimes. But as soon as they wear off, you know, they don’t go away. I think you know that you can sort of, you can mask it and sort of maybe have a relief from these feelings for you know, a little while, but they’re still there. They’re still here, they’re still in my mind, they’re still in my heart, they’re still a part of me. So that’s why I don’t really believe in them, because you know they, okay there might be a little pick-me-up for a while, but it’s no, it’s artificial to me. It doesn’t feel real.

Some found it easy to decide to start taking an antidepressant and had pushed for it themselves. These people said they wanted to try anything to help them get better. They also felt that being prescribed medication acknowledged their experience of depression and that they were taken seriously. Others said they’d been very “cynical” about medication generally, and about starting on antidepressants, but that they’d been happy about the choice in the end.

 

The decision to start medication was easy for Ruby; “like someone handed you a sandwich when you...

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
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Do you remember what the decision was like initially to go on medication?
 
Very easy, very, very easy. It felt like finally something was being done to fix this, ‘cos a lot of people say, “Oh, going on medication, a lot of stigma and stuff.” I mean best thing I ever did. Like in a, I know it sounds ridiculous, it might not be the best thing I ever did you know, I’ve had more fun holidays, but like, it was very, very easy it wasn’t a decision, it was a relief. It was, it was like someone handed you a sandwich when you haven’t eaten in five days, you know like.
 
It’s that’s a bad comparison, but you know, first of all it made me believe that I was finally being taken seriously. That there was the acknowledgement of how bad I felt, the foundation of how bad I felt. And there was also the way of it signified that there could be change, whereas you know I’d never have thought I’d be free from bulimia, bulimia for, I just, I couldn’t imagine my life without it, whereas, and okay it’s taken a lot of work too, like sometimes still when I eat, I have to be careful not to get too full, stuff like that you know? But certainly not restrict what I eat or anything like that, but certainly be aware of the fact that I will feel uncomfortable and not good, but you know, so there’s been a lot of work like that, but yeah, the medication made all the difference. So I should have been given it ten years ago, that’s the only thing that annoys me about medication, is that, for a while there it felt like a bit, too little too late. But it’s, fortunately it’s proved not to be.
 
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Craig says for him, taking antidepressants is in a way 'like taking a painkiller'.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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I was straightaway, yeah. We’ll do it. I needed it. I knew I needed help and I knew I needed to do it. And it’s not exactly, you know, it’s one tablet a day, it’s not, you know open heart surgery. You know it’s not, it’s not; I know some people might see it as a massive thing but for me it’s nothing. I mean I inject x-amount of times a day. It’s nothing to me, it’s just a pill. It’s just like taking a painkiller, that’s all. I suppose it is in a way.
 

Erika-Maye didn’t want to go on medication first but says it has helped her to “get to a level...

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Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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I have found them [antidepressants] helpful. My view on anti-depressants is this' I didn’t want to go on them at first, because I’m not a take a pill and everything’s fine-person. I think there are more than one way to skin a cat kind of thing. But they had helped, I don’t think that you can take anti-depressants and automatically everything’s fine, it has to be a combination of things. And I don’t, now I don’t see anything wrong with taking anti-depressants along with other, other types of therapy to help you feel better, because in the end, what depression is a chemical imbalance, and all the anti-depressants do is balance the chemical back up.
 
I was quite sceptical at first and not happy about having to pop a pill every morning, but they have helped me. They had at least on most days got me to a level where even if I’m still feeling crap I can think reasonably logically. I can think okay, everything’s kind of black and grey today, but the other week I had a really fantastic time. Obviously I still have my down moments, but and it’s very much with me that I can be feeling absolutely fantastic, but if one little thing goes wrong then I plummet. But especially with the Chronic Fatigue, I don’t, I think I would’ve driven myself mad if I didn’t, if I wasn’t on the anti-depressants, and they really do help. I was a bit of a cynic beforehand, and even for the first couple of months, because the Citalopram weren’t helping, but being on the Fluoxetine and being on the dose which I’m on,
 
Yeah.
 
It just helps a bit because obviously it’s not a simple solution, it’s not a take these everything’s gonna be wonderful straight way. It’s a process and they’re one of the steps in the process, I don’t see anything wrong with them now.
 
How long did it take for them to kick in? About?
 
Oh well I was on the Citalopram to begin with and they upped it to 20mg and then they changed me to Fluoxetine 20mg just after I was discharged from the [hospital name], so, end of April, and then they doubled my dosage being 6 weeks ago, and since they’ve put me up to 40mg I feel a lot better. Obviously it helps to have a few other things to keep my black clouds at bay, but, I think they can help. But they can’t be solely relied on.

Young people’s experiences of their doctors’ approach to prescribing medication varied a lot. Whereas some young people felt antidepressants were offered to them too easily, others had struggled to get a prescription. A couple of people said their doctors had been “reluctant” or “unkeen” to prescribe; one woman said without an official depression diagnosis she couldn't get medication although she’d wanted to. A couple of young people had never been offered medication though they had wanted to try one.

 

Sara says that without a formal diagnosis, she won’t be able to get the medication she would want...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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I don’t think having a diagnosis makes a difference because if you’re suffering from something, you’re suffering from something whether or not it’s kind of accepted. But the only thing I’d say with diagnosis is because I think medication does make a difference I think with a formal diagnosis that would’ve been an option.
 
But because I haven’t had a formal diagnosis and until I see a psychiatrist and get one, it’s, medication is kind of not going to happen. So that’s the only kind, only kind of benefit, but I wouldn’t say medication’s the only way out, you’d have to have like, medication would be just on of the things. So it’s, it doesn’t matter as much. But it, I think it does make a bit of a difference because, just because then your doctors and your family and, because if someone else says you’ve got a problem then other people are more likely to listen. If you say you’ve, you personally have got a problem they’re just gonna, kind of brush it away. If someone else says, “Oh this person has actually got a problem.” Then people are more, it just seems people are more likely to listen.

Many also emphasised that antidepressants were never “a quick fix” or “a magical cure” that would work overnight - often finding the right antidepressant and the right dose took a long time. As one woman said;


“I didn’t think of it [medication] as a magic overnight thing, but more a, “here’s the light at the end of the tunnel, and for once it’s not a freight train.”
Some people criticised what they described as a “random” approach by doctors to choosing a particular type of antidepressant and said they wanted their doctor to view their life situation holistically when choosing medication. For example, young women with eating problems wanted to avoid antidepressants that could increase their appetite or make them put on weight. On the whole, people wanted to be included in the decision making process about their care, including medication.
 

Mandy says medication does help but it requires finding the right medicine, the right dose and...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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It just depends on who you get, sort of professional-wise as to what you’re on, what the regime is really. I mean there’s, I’ve got a doctor now who I had a really bad sort of few months the last year and he put me onto them grudgingly ‘cos I was like, I want to see if it helps. And I mean I ended up taking myself off it, which is never the best plan. But you know there’s people that’d automatically just go, “Oh well, you know, you’re depressed, you’re this that and the other, you’ve got it in your history, you know, you’ve got no chance, it’s not that.” And then people like him that go well, “I don’t know if it is that, but you know you can try it and see, ‘cos we’ll put you on a low dose and see how you go.”, type thing. And you know it all depends on who you get, and their approach to medication as to how you respond to it. But I mean medication does help, it just depends on what you’re on. You’ve got to find the right dose and you’ve got to find the right meds. And it might...
 

Ruby says in the past she felt like she was prescribed the medication by whichever drug company...

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
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Oh God, like I said before if, if they were giving out free post it notes that week you’d be on that meds. If they got a free clickety pen the next week that said Zyprexa on it they’d give you Zyprexa, like it was just rubbish, there was no, this is why like I’m so chuffed with my psychiatrist that I have now, is because he’s looking at my case individually as opposed, oh, young girl, oh she’ll take that. It’s like no, it’s like well that’s clearly not, you know, he said there’s some brilliant like other antipsychotics out there, but they’ll make you put on weight and stuff and that’ll be a return to the bulimia, and you know, so it’s like he’s looking at my case individually and you know, doing it properly for the first time in years, as, you know as opposed to just giving me what mix and match, whatever’s popular that week kind of thing.
 
So looking at the bigger picture?
 
Yeah.
 

Experiences of taking antidepressants
Many people had very positive experiences of taking antidepressants. They described them as “the best thing I’ve ever done”, “really helpful” and the thing which had helped “boost” them over the worst. The benefits people described of antidepressants included helping to “take the edge off” the biggest lows, to “function better”, giving “motivation” to seek other help, especially talking treatments and “stabilising” moods. Some also described how medication had helped suppress feelings of self-harm and suicidal thoughts and helped stop or ease off panic attacks.

 
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Ruby takes an antidepressant, an anti-psychotic and a sleeping pill and says the medication helps...

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
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Yeah, when I when I first went on medication I went to the, it was from the GP and it was very much ‘give her the lowest dose of the lowest thing’. I’d have been better off having a sugar lump. Like ‘cos he just wasn’t taking it seriously, and I mean now after like five years on medication I’m on a, not cocktail, a mixture that seems to be really working. In that there’s the anti-depressant which has also been hugely influential in stopping the bulimia and lifting my mood anti-psychotics which sort of slow me down when I’m a bit hyper, not in a just like a, let’s contain her kind of way, but lots of very terrible thoughts and stuff like that, helps to relax me. And a sleeping pill, and I’m you know, so, I’ll hopefully get off the sleeping pills, but at the moment if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, kind of thing. I don’t see that as a lifetime thing, but me being on the medication may be like you know, some people have to take heart tablets, some people want to take blood pressure tablets, I just have to take that to stay well.
 

Young people’s experiences of antidepressants were closely linked to their expectations of how the medication could help them. Those who saw medication as helping them to get back on their feet, get through the worst and enable them to function better, seemed more satisfied than those who hoped the medication would make them “feel happy” or who perhaps struggled with often a long process of finding the right medication.
 

Antidepressants have helped Dan to get through the “shit” days and to be able to look into the...

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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Basically the thing I’ve found is that it doesn’t stop me feeling down and it doesn’t stop me feeling good either which was good ‘cos that was one of the things that I was quite scared of. And one of the things that stopped me taking them for a long time was I didn’t want to sort of end up losing the highs as well as the lows.
 
So I still, I still do feel really down at times, still feel really happy a lot of the times but what they’ve sort of done is just taken the edge of the lows, basically. So I’ll like I’ll still feel down but I won’t feel so down that I feel like all hope is lost, basically. I can still sort of, I’ll sort of go, I’ll feel down but I know it will pass, I can still have some degree of optimism, whereas before I was taking them when I got down I was just, I was in a completely helpless state I guess basically, I couldn’t, I couldn’t see any way out of it.
 
And they sort of certainly helped with at least getting me to a point where I could sort of approach each day, and even if I’m feeling shit I can sort of say, “Well it’ll pass,” I can, I can, kind of see the future, where it will pass basically.
 
When I, when I was feeling really down before I was on them, it was basically like I I’d look into the future and just go, “It’s it’s never gonna improve, it’s not gonna get better, I’m gonna be like this forever, you know, I’m gonna do this degree and I’m gonna feel awful, then I’ll go home, and nobody’ll be there and I’ll feel awful and etc. And they’ve sort of, it’s got me to the point where I can at least be, if, if not optimistic at least realist about it, and sort of say, “Yeah look it feels craps and it maybe that this isn’t for you, it maybe that you go home in a year, but at least sort of you, you will feel better at some point and whatever you end up doing after, you will find something that makes you happy, like you you’re not, you’re not gonna feel like this for the rest of your life.

We also spoke to several people who had negative experiences of taking antidepressants. Some had felt worse off when taking antidepressants (see more below on side effects), particularly when their moods had got worse after taking them; others said medication had made no difference to how they felt or to their symptoms. A few people also questioned the logic and function of medication which made no sense to them. One woman asked, “Why would I take a tablet to control my thoughts?”
 
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Holly improved after she stopped taking the antidepressants. She felt more 'animated' and had...

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Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
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I was on anti-depressants when, just shortly after I was first referred to her and obviously as the appointments got more and more, so the doses got a little bit higher. And after I was discharged I decided I’d had enough of taking them, because you know they gave me a bit of a headache, and whereas I’m sure they were helping they also weren’t making me feel any better, so I just stopped taking them straight away, which you know you’re not meant to do, especially with things like anti-depressants, it’s meant to be about six-month, a six-month-process to wean you off of them and I just stopped.
 
And in fact it was quite strange because everyone thought that the dosage had been upped because I was suddenly a lot better, I was suddenly, a lot sort of animated I had a lot more energy, and they thought that the dosage had been upped but actually I’d just stopped taking them. And they found that out ‘cos you know obviously the amount of tablets that I had was still the same and I wasn’t asking for more prescriptions, and, you know if you’re not asking then obviously you’re getting the tablets somewhere else, or you’re not taking them. So you know it was quite a strange experience and even on a person that, and who initially put me on the tablets, had never seen it happen before, they’d never seen someone stop taking them and be fine, normally there’s a lot of withdrawal symptoms and a lot of problems. And I was better for not having them. Which was odd.
 

Tasha says it’s difficult to know if antidepressants are working or not because she doesn’t know ...

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Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
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So then I started seeing a psychiatrist and I’m now on the third different type of medicine because the middle lot, the second lot I tried to take they were prescribed by my GP and he gave me 20 milligrams of them and when I went back to the psychiatrist she said to properly treat depression it should have been like 75 milligrams, so weren’t doing enough. So now I’m on the third lot and I think they’re just kicking in, but I’m not sure how I’m meant to feel with them.
 
I don’t know if they’re meant to stop the bad feelings or whether they’re meant to make you feel happy again, sort of numb everything. I don’t really know how I’m meant to feel, or how will I know if they’re working or not. And because my birthday is coming up, I’m quite in a good mood, I’m in a good mood so I don’t know whether it’s the medicine, or just being excited so I can’t tell.
 

For some, the negative experience of medication was linked to their GP’s or consultant’s approach. One woman said the success of antidepressants as a treatment depends heavily on the doctor’s approach and knowledge level. One man said he’d be happy taking medication if he knew it was a carefully thought through decision in his specific situation, not just “the easy” option. A couple of women felt that prescribing a medicine was a form of control by the doctor. Rather than involving young people in care decisions, their doctors had just told them what to do. Many said that antidepressants were the first and only form of help they were offered' they had been refused counselling or put on long waiting lists for it.
 

Mandy and Sian say that medication is not always the solution but on short term it can “boost...

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Mandy' I think you know, you end up begrudging medication to a point. It, it seems to be generally the first response you know. I went, although I went from the doctor and the doctor referred me to the psychiatrist, and then the psychiatrist put me on meds, and from there it was a downward spiral. As I said you know, into the unit on so much meds that I couldn’t think, that was to stop me you know,
 
Sian' It’s generally a temporary fix isn’t it?
 
Mandy' It’s to stop you doing what they class as naughty stuff. You know, I was completely suicidal so they thought, “Let’s drug her up.” It’s like the only way she won’t be able to do anything. Which to a point was true [laughter]. It’s what they call it! But you know, you end up getting put on more and more stuff and they see it as the solution to the problem.
 
Sian' It’s not, it’s not always the solution. It’s not always the solution, but sometimes it can help just to boost yourself up, extra, a little bit.
 
It can give you a boost to help you deal with it yourself, if you can give yourself sort of motivation to help you deal with it yourself, I think it, it feels, you sort of resent it when you know that they’ve given it you to basically shut you up and they’re using that as a way to sort you out. And that’s not right because you’ve obviously got underlying issues. You know the medication isn’t going to be there forever and if it is, you, your body will get used to it, and you know it’ll stop having the same effect. But when you know that they’ve given it as a way of saying, “Yeah we’ll give you this, to give you a boost, to help you sort your own problems out, and then we’ll wean you off the different…”
 
It’s alright in short term, but I wouldn’t really advise it you know, for, long periods of time, I know that, I’ve probably been on mine since I was 10 [laughter]. And I’m 18 now so…
 
 

Jo was offered only antidepressants by her GP and put on a waiting list for counselling that she...

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Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
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And I asked them [the doctor] if I could like, you know, if they could set me in like a therapy or something, and they were like, “No.” And then they put me on a waiting list, I’m still on this waiting list. And I was really shocked by that. Because it’s just like, yeah that was like the option, antidepressants and I didn’t, like I’m, like I’m sure that some people like, you know need them, because I know some people like actually cannot do anything anymore and I was still at the stage where basically I could get out of bed in the morning even though it was incredibly hard. But I would just like have prolonged anxiety attacks. But I felt like okay, like this is really hard, but I don’t want to start to rely on medication. And I don’t think that is really the issue.

Many found the combination of medication and counselling most successful. For them it had been the “double headed attack” which had worked. One woman compared it to fixing a broken leg;

“It’s like having a broken leg and just you know just wrapping it up so it doesn’t hurt, but not actually getting it fixed, you need both treatments.”
 

Dan says going on medication “wasn’t an easy decision” but combined with counselling helped him a...

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Age at interview: 22
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I eventually went and talked to the counsellor, and it made me feel crap for about two days ‘cos it dug up a load of stuff that I didn’t want to think about, but it certainly helped. And I’m glad I did it, I’m definitely glad I did it.
 
But I went and talked to the counsellor and we talked it through, so we just had a couple, a couple of sessions kind of talking it through, how I was feeling and why I might be feeling like that. And it definitely helped, but I was still feeling down a lot of the time, and I eventually went and talked to a GP and said, “Look I’m, I sort of, I’m talking to people I’m in counselling and I feel like I’m moving forward but I just, I need, kind of I need something to help me get over that hump basically.
 
And I was put on some anti-depressants which actually really helped. I don’t like taking medicines, I really hate taking medicines. I really prefer to kind of let my body deal with it, so it wasn’t, it wasn’t an easy decision to make. But it was kind of I just, I’d reached this realisation that, yes I can get through it on my own steam and it will be something that I get myself through but I’m gonna need help to do it. I can’t, I can’t do this entirely by myself. And part of that was going to see a counsellor and talking to them about it, and talking about how I feel and why I feel that way and sort of, getting I guess cognitive things I can do to help myself feel better. So sort of thinking exercises and of things like that but also being able to go to talk to a doctor and say, “Look I’m depressed, I need something to help me with it”.

 

They sort of said, explained basically look this is, how you’re feeling is not uncommon, it happens to a lot of people, I know it happens to a lot of people. And it’s great that you’re in counselling, it’s great that you’re doing this, you know, you, it’s, that will definitely help you and you will definitely move through it, but it’s its okay to be, just something to give you boost over the hump.
 
‘Cos that’s, that, I mean that’s that why the drugs exist is to kind of bolster you. And I mean taking, just taking anti-depressants I don’t think would help a lot, because I wouldn’t kind of work through the things that were bugging me. But with kind of talking to people and getting help, and also just kind of as time went on, they just kind of they, they got me out of the bad moods enough to be able to be optimistic and things like that. And that’s, I mean they’re not perfect, I still have days where I feel awful, when I’m on them but the definitely have stabilised me a lot, which is good.
 
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When Gemma went to her GP about depression, she was instantly prescribed antidepressants and...

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Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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The next morning my mum’s thoughts were confirmed. I had severe depression. In a way I always knew, but knowing for definite still shocked me. In one way it comforted me, knowing that I wasn't like everyone else, that there was a reason i was behaving this way. The doctor was very supportive and didn’t judge me for not coming forward sooner. She told me the fact that I was here showed that I was going to get better. She then got straight to the point. She asked me how did I want to get through this? What would I be willing to try? "Anything," I said. She then talked me through the two main options." Counselling is one we strongly recommend for everyone as it will help you to understand how you became vulnerable to depression and you can express how you feel to a person who has no emotional involvement with you and a professional view. The second is anti depressants, they aren’t a quick fix to make you better, but they help you to cope better with what your going through."
 
"I just want to stop feeling like this" I said, "I want to try both". I came out of the doctors with the promise of being contacted by the NHS about my counselling shortly and with a packet of Fluoxetine capsules.

For some, it hadn’t been counselling but other coping strategies and ways of helping themselves that had helped alongside medication (see ‘Self-help & coping strategies’).
Those young people who’d not been able to access talking treatments despite wanting to, felt that antidepressants were useless on their own because the underlying causes of depression weren’t addressed. One woman said that medication might help someone otherwise “unable to get out of bed” to function but wouldn’t “solve” the problem.
 
Side effects of antidepressants
Like any medication, antidepressants can cause unpleasant side effects. These can vary from one person to another and also between different antidepressants. Here we discuss the different types of cognitive, emotional and physical side effects that young people had experienced from their medication overall, rather than focusing on the side effects of any one particular antidepressant.

The most common side effects that young people had experienced were tiredness, lacking energy and sleeping problems. Some said that their medication kept them up all night, whereas others had the opposite problem of always feeling sleepy, “drowsy” or “sedated”. Many said that medication had completely messed up their sleeping pattern.

 

The side effects Mandy experienced included visual disturbances, hearing voices, weight gain and...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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There was so many that could be…, you get visual, you can get visual disturbances and hearing voices from depression medication. Weight gain, you can get increased appetite or decreased appetite, you can sleep so much. They put me on a full dose of one of them, at one point they had to halve it because I couldn’t stay awake, I physically couldn’t do anything. I mean my Dad would take, took me for a walk once, and I only got sort of five minutes each way and we were back again, sat on the couch and slept for two hours, in which time my Mum rang my like nurse guy, and was like, “Look not being funny, but for the past three days since she started taking them, she can’t stay awake. You’re sedating her and she’s missing her whole life type thing.” ‘Cos I just, I wasn’t awake, I was awake for about three hours a day.
 
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Beth felt 'horrible' on antidepressants and they didn't get her 'out of the rut that I still felt...

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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I was bad and I went to the doctor and I just burst into tears and said and she said, “Well I can give you these phone numbers and you can put yourself in the mental health thing and go and see this,” and then she said, “Take these,” and she said, “If you don’t want to take them you don’t have to.” But I felt like I was just offered no alternative choice and I was always kind of against that kind of thing, you know.
 
I don’t know, and the kind of lifestyle that I’ve led with the rock music and stuff, you get people that are really open about it. And whether it’s in lyrics or whatever, so I’m surrounded by this opinion that’s been created that is completely not true of people taking you know Prozac or whatever, just because they’re depressed, but it’s the thing that everyone does, and you know it’s, it was just like I had this whole kind of stigma attached to it. It was, it was just completely wrong, about mental health and I still couldn’t shake of it, even though you know my Mum had said all these things, I was just still thinking, “Oh it’s just cries for help, I don’t want to take these stuff you know, it’s the kind of stuff people brag about, and I don’t wanna, I just wanna be me, I just don’t want to do that.”
 
And I started taking it but it was horrible because it completely messed up my sleeping pattern, and  I suppose they did work ‘cos I stopped thinking about it, but it didn’t help me get out of the rut that I still felt trapped, because there was nothing else going along with it.
Antidepressants also affected some people's appetite, either increasing or suppressing it. One woman lost her appetite completely, while a couple of people put on weight. Some people had felt “sick” or “nauseous” and one man had had “violent retching”.
 
In some, antidepressants had unwanted effects on moods. Some described feeling more “anxious”, “mad” and also more “suicidal” after starting their medication. A couple of people described not feeling “in control” or “real” or not caring about what happened to them. One woman said that while an antidepressant helped her not to feel depressed, at the same time it also stopped her feeling anything at all.
 

Craig describes a sensation when he knows he’s there but he doesn’t feel “in control”. He says it...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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When it happens it’s just, it’s kind of like I know  I’m there, and I know what’s happening, But I’m not in control. If that makes sense you know? Kind of, my whole body just goes numb, and I’m just, it’s like watching a film, it’s like I’m in the mind, but I’m not, if that makes sense? I can see through the eyes, but that’s about it.
 
But it’s, sometimes I mean, sometimes like when it’s, when it changes it can, can be quite painful and what not, sometimes I get the shakes and tremors, and massive, massive headaches. And sometimes it feels like you know, not enough room in my head if that makes sense? You know, two people in there at the same time. But most of the time it’s pretty, it’s pretty alright, it’s just it’s only really within the first hour of me taking the pill which is why I do it at night. Or if I find myself bored, or you know just my mind wandering. And before I know it, I’m gone.
 
How often does it happen?
 
I’d say usually about once a day.
 
And, and you’ve noticed that it’s often related to taking your medication?
 
It's, it’s pills or boredom, yeah. So I try to keep myself active. Try and listen to my music, try to, you know text my girlfriend, anything like that, just to keep my hands busy, keep myself busy, keep my mind busy. Keep it active.
 

A particular antidepressant made Tasha feel like she wasn’t “real” and was “dreaming a lot of the...

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Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
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I personally didn’t agree with that medicine, like not me but my body. I felt like I wasn’t being happy, I wasn’t getting happier it was sort of, it made me feel, well I think it was the medicine, ‘cos nothing else had changed, it made me feel like I wasn’t really real, sort of like I was dreaming a lot of the time. And it made me not care and I was doing things without thinking about the consequences, like it would just, it sort of made it worse in ways. It didn’t make me feel worse, but my behaviour changed without me knowing why. And I didn’t like, I didn’t like it and I just felt, it felt weird and I thought this can’t helping.
 
Mm. Did you notice yourself those changes?
 
Yeah I did and I was getting more suicidal and sort of I think that’s what the not caring was, it was like, “Oh it doesn’t matter if I do this ‘cos I’m not going be here much longer” sort of thing.
 
Mm. So those kind of made your sort of suicidal, self harm thoughts, sort of more?
 
Yeah. I think it was the medicine.

Some had also experienced different kinds of pains, particularly headaches, but also stomach pains or generalised tremors. Rarer side effects included blackouts, dribbling, hallucinations and, in women, producing milk (lactating).

 

Jennie had really bad side effects from medication but says depression is a medical condition and...

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Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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And they [antidepressants] just didn’t, they weren’t helping, and I was like, “Yes I feel happier, but these thoughts are making me feel worse.” So it was just like a constant conflict between the two, and the side effects were so bad for me that I was just like, I feel sick every morning, and I’m just I’m having headaches, feeling dizzy, and I was just like, “Why when it’s not helping?” So they obviously tried different forms of tablets to take and like some you had to take three a day, and I, I do get so frustrated, and “Why do I need to take a tablet for my thoughts?” And people would say, “People who have diabetes have to take tablets every day. It is a medical condition; it’s not something that’s wrong.” Because you don’t have any physical symptoms, I think a lot of people think that it’s not an illness, whereas it actually is, and sometimes you do need tablets to tackle it, like my Mum needs tablets. And if you don’t have those tablets then you just fall back into the cycle. So like diabetes if you don’t take your insulin you fall back into the cycle it can lead to like obviously horrible effects, just like depression can.

The routine of medication taking
People also talked about the routine of taking their medicines. Some had become used to it as a straightforward routine, whereas others said they sometimes forgot to take it. It was also crucial to take the medicine at the right time of day.

 

Emma-Jane kept forgetting to take her medication regularly. She’s now thinking of whether to go...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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I then kind of stopped taking them, without telling my GP, just ‘cos I just kept forgetting to take them, and I thought I’ll take ‘em later, I’ll take them later, I’ll take them later. And then kind of I just didn’t and I haven’t been back on them for a while, I mean I am kind of umming and erring with the decision of going back on them, just because I am going through this kind of bit at the moment that I’ve become like, “Phew Okay,” but I know that they can make you more anxious. I mean they work for some people, and some people they don’t. And I’m still trying to work out whether I’m one of those that it does or doesn’t.

 

I wouldn’t say no to them, I’d like, it, and they did ask me, did I want to go on anti-depressants. And I, because I was kind of this, “Oh right,” kind of state of mind, so, “Yeah, why not? Go for it.” And like as I said I’m thinking about going back on them, but it’s kind of weighing up the pros and cons of it, ‘cos they do make me feel a bit more anxious, for a while until like everything evens out and it did take about 4 to 6 weeks, it isn’t a quick [click finger] like that. Like drugs and kind of sort of counselling and CBT, will kind of be the best way of kind of dealing with it and talking to people. I, like if I had to pick one way of dealing with it, it would be talking, talking about things, ‘cos there’s only, there’s only so much that a drug can do. But I wouldn’t say no, and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from using them. I would encourage them to use it ‘cos it might work for them, it might you know, just don’t drink heavily on them because then it can just make you feel worse, because like yeah. They just can.
 

After four years on antidepressants, Darren was told he should be taking them in the morning,...

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Male
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I was put on anti-depressants ‘cos I still weren’t quite right… Yeah, and until this, until recently I only just found out the anti-depressants I’ve been taking at the wrong time, I’ve been taking them in the evening when I should’ve been taking them in the morning. All the doctors I’ve been seeing didn’t realise that, after four years, and now things are better.

 

So tell me what happened, what was it like? Would you sort of stay awake long periods of time during the night?
 
Till about 4 or 5, maybe 6 you know.
 
And did anyone at that point think at all that it could be to do with the timing of the anti-depressants?
 
No. No. They just thought I was a night person, or lazy you know. And then it weren’t until I saw the doctor recently, ‘cos I was feeling low again, and he said, “Well, what time do you take your anti-depressant?” I was like, “In the evening.” He says, “Well there’s one mistake there, you should be taking them in the morning.” I was like, “Ah.” “But hasn’t anyone told you that?” And I was like, “No.” Like that. So after four years, you know, someone should’ve told me that but…
 
And did you change it straight away?
 
Yeah. And he upped the dose as well.
 
And how soon did you start being able to sleep at night?
 
Straight away. 

Several people had tried two or more different types of antidepressants. Tapering off one antidepressant, and then gradually building up the dose for another was a long process. One woman said she was really “frustrated” with “playing around” with different types of antidepressants; settling on the medication she was currently on had taken years.
 
Many were keen to wean off antidepressants over time and a couple said that – against medical advice – they had stopped their medicine altogether of their own accord. One woman said about her plans to wean off medication:
 
“I'm still on my anti-depressants but when I'm ready I will gradually come off them. But when I am ready, not when I THINK I am.”

Find out more about antidepressants experiences.
 
Last reviewed June 2017.

Last updated December 2013.

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