Battling depression is undoubtedly difficult but there has always been a glimmer of hope that things can be resolved by taking a small white pill; an antidepressant. It’s strange that this pill wrapped in silver foil can change your mood and make all of your problems go away; or can it?
Earlier this year the BMJ reported that antidepressants can double the risk of suicidality and aggression within young people; the last thing you want to hear if you are currently taking antidepressants. With this, according to The Health and Social Care Information Centre, 61 Million antidepressants were prescribed in the UK in 2015. So should we be worried about the effectiveness of these drugs and their potential side effects?
Do antidepressants work?
Brian is not alone, Katinka Blackford-Newman published The Pill That Steals Lives earlier this year; highlighting the dangers of antidepressants after her own experience on them.
I lost a year of my life to these drugs.”
she explains. “Within hours of taking an antidepressant I was in a trance-like state. I attacked myself with a knife which I do not have any recollection of doing”. Katinka was sent into a four-day psychosis. She is one of the 1% of people that have a severe adverse reaction to antidepressants.
Although people do experience adverse side effects to these drugs, many people do benefit from them. NHS doctor Zoe Norris says “antidepressants are not for everyone; patients need to know the pros and cons of them.” She adds “The effectiveness of antidepressants is really individual. I give them to patients who I think need them. There are some patients who I encourage not to have them because I can see their problems are more than something a tablet is going to fix.”
25 year-old blogger of ‘it’s okay right?‘ Hannah Morton has been on antidepressants on three different occasions since she was 17, she says:
Medication has helped me get to a place where I feel levelled and can deal with the thoughts that are effecting me.”
Although she has had a positive experience on antidepressants she has also had her fair share of side effects. “It hasn’t always been easy. The first few weeks aren’t easy and often things feel like they get worse before they get better”. Hannah adds, “My worst experiences of side effects was when I came off Citalopram. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, I kept bursting into tears at the slightest thing.” Despite this, Hannah feels that the pros outweigh the cons of taking antidepressants “I would still recommend at least trying antidepressants to anyone who is struggling. It isn’t necessarily for everyone but at least it’s an option.”
Why are increasing numbers of people taking antidepressants?
The first line recommendation for someone with depression is talking therapies according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guide lines. So why are the numbers of people being prescribed antidepressants increasing?
Both Katinka and Brian feel that people are being prescribed antidepressants when in fact they don’t have depression. “It is clear that antidepressants are being prescribed to those who are not clinically depressed, to whom they are likely to do more harm than good” Brian says on his website. Katinka believes that when she was prescribed antidepressants she was just going through a normal life experience “I think this is a real problem that people are being told they are depressed when actually they are going through completely normal reactions to life events.”
Dr Zoe Norris expresses the difficulty of being an NHS GP at the moment due to government budget cuts on mental health, “If I see a patient who is coming in with mild to moderate depression then I should offer them talking therapies but quite often the waiting list for that can be up to 18 months” she explains. “Or I can give them medication that will potentially work within a few weeks, ” she adds. “There is a lack of any other option and that’s certainly been the issue recently when the first line option is talking therapy and you cannot access it you have to move on to your second option which is medication.”
However, Katinka does not think this is good enough. “depression is a sign that something is not right in our lives. We might need professionals or friends to help us to unpick what is wrong with our lives” she says adding, “Just using a pill to suppress that is just not the answer.”
People with depression need time and that is what we don’t have in the NHS at the moment.”
Dr Zoe says. “There is an expectation that as GPs we can treat everything. When you have only got seven minutes with that patient then sometimes it is difficult to do nothing when you can clearly see they are struggling.”
This is a real issue for the NHS and with constant budget cuts to healthcare this issue is not improving. Dr Zoe adds “We need to recognise it is more than just a tablet; it is about a wider support structure for these patients.”
For more information on this topic:
Listen: to the Just Like A Pill radio package
Watch: Herbal antidepressants: Another option
Explore: Common antidepressant side effects
Listen: to an interview about antidepressant withdrawal
Other useful websites on this topic: