'A psychological cup of coffee': your thoughts on antidepressants
The current news cycle does not make for happy reading. Day after day we are being bombarded with stories about the rise in the cost of living, climate change, war, strikes, delays, Covid and more, all set against a backdrop of changes in government. We are all in this ‘broken Britain’ together, but we will all handle it differently.
If you do follow the news (and you can see why sometimes it’s helpful to avoid it altogether), it may not have escaped your attention that there has been some media coverage lately about whether depression is caused by a ‘chemical imbalance’ in the brain.
And now for the ‘sciencey’ bit…This is a view which has been held as far back as the 1960s but became more prominent in the 1990s where the brain chemical serotonin was thought to lead to depression when it was out of kilter, and pharmaceutical companies began producing anti-depressants using selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. This medication appeared to improve the levels of serotonin temporarily, but to cut through many different research studies carried out over the years, there is no clear evidence to uphold the theory of this chemical imbalance, or medical proof to clearly show how anti-depressants work on the brain.
According to the NHS Business Services Authority, there were 20.8 million antidepressant drugs prescribed in England from July to September 2021; over a million more than were prescribed in the same months in 2020/21, so we know they are still being prescribed, and we know people are still taking them.
We asked a number of people who experience depression whether they felt anti-depressants had helped them or not, and the overwhelming response was that they had. Now, we’re not suggesting this is any kind of scientific study, but we wanted to show that for some people, for whatever reason, anti-depressants work.
Raf describes them as “a psychological cup of coffee in the morning. It is that booster that I rely on to help me get out and confront the world. When you are in bed or in a chair with the heavy weight of depression keeping you there, such medications can be what help you get up and confront the world.”
For Ali and Dani, they are a short-term help, used alongside a healthy lifestyle:
Medication for me was an essential short-term tool to help me get my lifestyle in place to better cope with my depression and anxiety. Now I am able to just use exercise and a healthy lifestyle to cope, but medication helped me get here.
Anti-depressants work for me and although I still need to do other things to support my mental health, like exercise and meditation. Anti-depressants often give me that extra boost I need to motivate me to continue to look after myself.
Similarly, Linda also explains that she relies on them to help her face the day - ‘With the medication, I am calmer, more able to cope, I can concentrate and my relationships are better. My moods are more even, and I am able to deal with my emotions in a much better way. In all, I'm able to live my life.”
Laura also feels that they help her, but alongside other therapies. “Anti-depressants aren't a cure all or a miracle fix. They are a safety net for the really bad days so I don't fall down completely and help with relapse prevention. They also help me get out of bed, get through the day and stay alive for tomorrow. They work best alongside talking therapies and good self-care practices.”
This debate will no doubt rumble on until there is scientific evidence to show what actually causes depression, and what can cure it. However, in the meantime, the last word goes to Leni:
After years of crippling bipolar depression, I finally got the right treatment, including antidepressants. People associate them with short term symptoms but my illness is so severe I need them just to be able to function normally. Being judged for taking life-saving medication adds a burden I don’t need.
If you are taking anti-depressants, it’s very important you don’t just stop taking them. Speak to your doctor first.
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