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Antidepressants

Antidepressants: Messages to others

People we talked to were keen to reassure other people with depression that using antidepressants wasn’t something to be ashamed about. Rachel’s view is that ‘it should be seen the same as if you break your wrist... as an illness that can be treated it doesn’t mean you grow another head... it doesn’t mean you’re stupid and it doesn’t mean you can’t make decisions’. Most of the people we spoke to felt that if your doctor suggested an antidepressant, you should give it serious consideration and not be afraid to give it a try or worry about what other people might think. Andrew’s advice was that it’s definitely worth thinking about ‘it’s not a bad thing at all... give it some thought but don’t feel that it’s a negative clutching at straws thing. I think it may feel like that but it’s not and it can help’. Stuart said you shouldn’t rely on it but think of it as ‘a bit like taking an aspirin, you know, it’s something that if you’re lucky will give you some relief from the symptoms, will help you feel better’. Even where people had themselves had difficult experiences or not found an antidepressant that had helped, they still advised others to think about it carefully, and not be discouraged by scare stories or others’ bad experiences. 
 

Roisin feels that ignorance and stigma about mental health...

Roisin feels that ignorance and stigma about mental health...

Age at interview: 45
Sex: Female
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I think the way that people with mental health problems are portrayed in the media is appalling you know it’s just something, people you know, people don’t say to people this is one of their favourite things is if it was say they suffered from depression or something like that they all, you know it’s a ‘Why don’t you just sort of think really positively?’ and you feel like going ‘Okay well if somebody had a broken leg would you say to them why don’t you try really, really hard to make your leg mend (laughs) and then you’ll be okay?’ and that’s clearly nonsense but they expect people with mental health problems and things like depression, if they try really, really hard to feel better and they will.... it’s just ridiculous.
 
When you hear people say really stupid things about them, you know like you can get addicted to them and you rely on them and I say well you clearly have no understanding what addiction or reliance is and the reason, you know explain to them how they work and they’re like ‘oh I didn’t realise’... you know yes it’s not like taking like, you know taking an E, it’s not like taking like diazepam or temazapam, they work in a totally different way and they don’t space you out, they don’t make you falsely happy, it’s not how they work.
Clare said she would never advise someone to take one or not take one, but that each person is different and it’s a decision you should make together with your doctor. Catherine advised taking time to think about it if you weren’t sure. 
 

Clare feels that the first step is to be able to explain how...

Clare feels that the first step is to be able to explain how...

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Female
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My advice would be find a doctor that you can talk to that you trust and go with what they say. If you can find that I think that’s the key to it, I would never say to somebody ‘do It or ‘don’t do It because everybody’s different and everybody, everybody’s story’s different and everybody is different about why they are in the place they are. and that’s, that’s why my experience has been I’ve found a GP, I’ve found three GP’s who have listened to me, who have taken it on board, who have allowed me the time to explore what’s going to help. in many ways I suppose what I’ve experienced and I’ve been so fortunate is that I’ve experienced best practice in terms of discussing treatments with the patient and working out what is going to be best for that person. So I’ve had things done with me as opposed to done to me and that’s what I would say.
 
When you're not feeling well there’s still that thing about there is a power balance when you are going to see your GP even when you’re articulate and you have your facts and you know what you want somehow that disappears when you’re sitting there and you go ‘no it’s just about my toe’ whereas what you want to talk to them about is, you know, you’re worried about , you know you forget and they say you should take a list, you should write it down. So I suppose that’s what I would say to people is write it down because that’s what helped me was my friend and colleague saying ‘write down how you’re feeling in your words and hand it to the doctor’ then you don’t have to be articulate because they’ve got something that hopefully they will then look at and go right ‘so you're feeling, you know, miserable, you’re feeling really down, you feel as though everybody hates you right what’s that about?’. So that’s what I suppose because most people can write how they’re feeling even if it’s only words, you know, it doesn’t need to be an essay. You know so I suppose that’s what I would say to them, if they haven’t got a, they need both the GP who’s got to not dismiss it and go well you know what this is what…. for me what is it what do you want.
People said they would advise others to be proactive, ask questions and to find information from the doctor and other sources such as the pharmacist, the internet or talking to others Flora‘s advice was to find out as much as possible about the treatment the doctor has suggested. ‘Don’t just accept the first thing you’re given by the GP, look it up and find out more about the drug you’ve been offered’. Thomas said if you’re prescribed an antidepressant you should find out about possible side effects and how to cope with them, as well as to know what dose you are taking, and for how long you might need to take the antidepressant. Greg advised people to ‘do your own research’ and also stressed how important it was to get support from friends and family when you are taking medication, (see ‘Finding out more information about antidepressant medicines’). 
 

‘I’d say that anybody who’s experiencing depression...

‘I’d say that anybody who’s experiencing depression...

Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 21
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Get as much information from as many different sources as possible not just to accept the first thing that they were given by their GP and if they were given something by their GP to then look that up and on the websites they’ve got mental health and medical websites so to go to one of those make sure it’s connected with a mental health service or hospital so that you know it’s, you’ll get all the details of side effects and other details if you want to find out more about the drug itself. But also I would suggest that they go on line and maybe go on go to health forums and there’s also sort of some depression kind of forums to talk to people if they don’t know anybody but where they can contact the people to find out what their experiences are, just in terms of some support and also might make contact with people who might make helpful suggestions or be able to share some of their views.
 
Also locally if they have a MIND service or a similar mental health charity that they can access MIND is particularly good because they are generally very well resourced but it depends what part of the region you’re in but they have a fantastic website they have also in major cities and towns Wellbeing Centres where you can actually ring up locally or just drop in to speak to somebody confidentially or to find out about other kind of support that might be in the community just counselling or groups or any kind of thing. I’d say that anybody who’s experiencing depression or anxiety or some kind of mental health problem then try and get as much advice and support as you can and for everybody that’s different.
Some said that they felt that taking an antidepressant had changed their lives for the better, others felt that it may or not work, but their advice was that if you don’t try you won’t ever know if it could help or not. Stephen said he hadn’t realised how bad he’d been feeling until he felt the positive benefits of an antidepressant and thinks people should definitely consider it as an option, and listen to friends or family if they are telling you they think you would benefit from some help.
 
 A key message people wanted to pass on was that antidepressants may make a real difference to the way you feel, but it’s also important to be realistic and not expect them to solve everything. Tim had tried them but wasn’t sure how much they had helped .His advice was that ‘they may be of some help but they’re not going to solve a problem, whatever the problem may be’. Lucy X felt sure that taking an antidepressant had helped her but that ‘it should be alongside something that gets down to the root of the problem’. Taking up opportunities for other treatment such as therapy or counselling was also recommended. Many believed it had been the combination of both that had been the key to their own recovery. For some people, taking an antidepressant can begin to help them to start to feel better and more able to address other issues in their lives, and some said it was worth thinking about taking an antidepressant for a short while before starting a course of therapy or counselling. If there is a waiting list for therapy or counselling taking an antidepressant may help you to cope whilst you’re waiting, as well as possibly getting you in a frame of mind to talk, (see also ‘Talking therapies and antidepressants’). Tim said he would advise people to make sure their doctor tells them about all the options that are available to treat depression. Some people said doctors were sometimes too quick to ‘reach for the prescription pad’ and that you should ask yourself whether you feel you really need an antidepressant and not feel obliged to take one. If you’re just feeling a bit sad or unhappy, it may not be the answer for you. 
 

Thomas feels its important try other strategies to help yourself...

Thomas feels its important try other strategies to help yourself...

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Male
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Above all, I’d say be informed. I would say seek out as much information as you can and use the medication only, only as a kind of second resort, not as a last resort but as a second line of defence. I would say your first line of defence, I think should be knowledge. You should know what the, what you’re suffering from and try and improve the situation socially. Friends, exercise that kind of thing. Try and find practical solutions to your problems that you can involve in your life. I would say do that first and then you go to take, consider taking medication if that’s not worked. I would say be very, very informed about the side effects of these drugs and have strategies in place if possible for dealing with some of the more common side effects associated with what you’re taking and also be very aware of the dose that you’re taking because you’re almost never told whether you’re taking a high dose or low dose, you’re simply given a dose and you’re none the wiser as to what that dose might be or where even that dose might be taken. They don’t tell you necessarily. If at all I don’t think. Are they going to change your dose over time, they just do it. And you’ve got to be willing to take a very proactive approach to your own health care, to be able to ask these questions and be informed about that and know how long you’re going to be on them, that’s another thing with these medications is that doctors tend to just put you on them and never take you off them. You’re just on them, and they will, a repeat prescription or whatever and they just never take you off them.
 

Steve thinks it’s worth giving an antidepressant a try...

Steve thinks it’s worth giving an antidepressant a try...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 30
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I’d say if your doctor has told you that it might be good for you to be on antidepressants then go on antidepressants. Actually I just don’t see any bad in them other than potentially the stigma that other people will think and you don’t have to share it with the world you can do it yourself, it’s a tiny little pill that you take and nobody ever needs to know about. and if it is going to make you, like I said earlier on, trying to get it across to anyone anyway, if it’s going to make you see things more positively so that you can then work on what you need to work on or look and see things from a different angle. It’s very easy for us all to get very used to the way that we already see things and think that that’s right but actually it could just be that you’ve been down for so long so if they can help you kind of come out of that and almost kind of out of the clouds as it were so that you can actually just see what’s around you and then, I’m not saying they fix everything, I don’t think they fix everything I just think they just give you another, another, another place to come from to be able to look at things. But I would say yes they’re not, they’re not bad.
 

Lou reflected ‘I don’t think the changes I made would have...

Lou reflected ‘I don’t think the changes I made would have...

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 22
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I guess I’d say ‘you’ve got to do what’s right for you’ but I would say that my experience with modern SSRI’s is, is wholly positive, you know, and that my life’s been completely enriched if you like by my decision to take antidepressants. I don’t think, I don’t think the changes I made would have been possible without that initial stepping stone of taking them. and I think I would tell people that it doesn’t change what, my experience is that it doesn’t change you at all it just makes you a better version of you. and that, you know, side effects these days are neither here nor there.... coming off them isn’t the as bumpy as it used to be at all and just ‘do it really!’
 
It’s a great first step but when you’re feeling better don’t get complacent and think ‘great that’s solved it’, it hasn’t. It’s propped you up for you to solve it yourself, if you see what I mean.
People we spoke to said that they would advise others who decided to try an antidepressant to ‘follow through’, give it time , not expect them to work immediately, and to realise that often initial side effects will wear off if you ‘stick with it’. Olivia Y advises people get past the six week mark and don’t give up at the start... because if you give up on them then you’re never going to know if it’s going to help’. 
 

‘I wish someone had told me when I was starting out that...

‘I wish someone had told me when I was starting out that...

Age at interview: 28
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 22
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I’d say don’t be afraid because you know, it’s similar when you get a headache you don’t think twice about taking a paracetamol or, you know, ibuprofen or whatever you just take it because that’s, it's there and it helps. the thing with antidepressants is that there are so many of them I wish, what I wish someone had told me when I was starting out is there are so many of them they do different things, they might not work you need to be patient with them, you need to realise that it’s not going to wave a magic wand and you’re going to feel fantastic immediately it might take a week it might take, in my case you know it took years before I got on the right one for exactly what I needed and, and that was a great feeling when that happened but at the same time, you know, the wait had to be worth it. So I’d say just don’t be afraid trust your doctor if, you know, I’m generally pretty pro the medical establishment and just try it and if it isn’t working then tell your doctor and just don’t suffer in silence, don’t say after three months you don’t feel any different you know I can’t you know just tell them it’s not working for you.
 

Lucy X found the combination of antidepressants and talking...

Lucy X found the combination of antidepressants and talking...

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 15
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I haven’t had this situation but I’ve heard it from other people that sometimes there’s a feeling that you go to the doctors and they just say ‘here’s some antidepressants and off you go’. I mean they’re you know, anti-depressants aren’t right for everyone some people need other things that, like CBT for me was fantastic and you know, it was the combination that’s really got me where I am now and so, you know, if you feel anti-depressants aren’t the right thing not to be scared to go back and say ‘what else can I have, what else can we do?’ you know, and there’s a lot of help out there, I mean but also to be patient because these things don’t always come through that quickly.
 
I suppose I think sometimes people cannot understand that they take a while to kick in to start having an effect.
 
Yes.
 
It can be quite difficult through that period to keep with it.
 
Yes I mean yes I would just say definitely you need to just stick with it because I mean for me I think it took about like two or three weeks. I mean I think there’s a slight placebo effect in there because you kind of feel like you’re taking something that’s going to make you better. I definitely felt that the second time around so yes just you know, that hopefully things will change, you have to give it time and if they don’t then there’s always help there.
Not everyone we spoke to had found that the first antidepressant that they tried had worked, indeed often people had tried several. Some described a long, sometimes fraught journey to eventually finding the right antidepressant, and some felt they had never had any benefit. The overall message that people were keen to stress was that it’s a very individual thing. Some said they wished they had realised that trying different antidepressants was an option as they had struggled on for too long taking something that hadn’t been effective, or they had stopped taking one without proper advice. Having a good relationship with the doctor can make all the difference, and many people stressed how important it was to ask questions and have reviews with the doctor. Sonia said she would recommend talking to the pharmacist about any questions or concerns about antidepressants, because they often know far more than the GP about individual medicines. 
 

Side effects are different for everyone. Sonia says you...

Side effects are different for everyone. Sonia says you...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 17
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I guess I would advise anyone to find out what the side effects are because some of them aren’t variable and it, it is very different for everyone, whilst someone might get, you know, horrendous side effects from fluoxetine another person might not get any at all and you have to kind of think, you have to really think hard is it going to be worth it because if you’re incredibly, you know, if you’re at the lowest point you can possibly be the side effects are probably worth it, if you’re mildly depressed they’re probably not going to be. I would probably always suggest talking to your pharmacist as well because your GP’s busy, they’re busy and you know what they’re not; they don’t know everything about every drug and a pharmacist kind of does. I think they’re a really underused and underrated kind of tool out there actually pharmacists.
 
So do you think it’s about people finding the right one for them?
 
Absolutely yeah I think… I think doctors tend, GP’s tend to have their favourites there’s always a drug of the, drug of the day or drug of the month, drug of the year always gets prescribed a lot more than anything else, and that’s fine but I think also what I would say to people is don’t be afraid to go back and say you know what this isn’t working because I think a lot of people are and also ask the question, what is it supposed to be doing, you know how is it supposed to be making me feel, is it supposed to be making me feel my normal self or is it supposed to be making me feel kind of half way there or, you know, because I think there is this expectation that it’s just going to make you feel better and actually that’s not really what they do. They kind of get you to a point where you need to make changes.
It can be tempting for people to decide to stop taking an antidepressant when they are feeling better, but Sharon emphasised how important it was to be sure that you are well enough and to get advice ‘I think it's very difficult when you're on them to be confident about coming off them unless you're ready, unless you're well and you've got to have other stuff in place’. 
(See also ‘Talking therapies and antidepressants’, ‘Deciding to take an antidepressant’, ‘Expectations about taking antidepressants’ and ‘Reviewing antidepressant use’).

Last reviewed June 2016.
​Last updated June 2016.
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