Medicine for depression is sometimes necessary, but taking SSRIs doesn’t have to be scary.
By Kim Easton-Smith
Starting medication for depression can feel like a huge step, and it’s normal to worry about what it means for you and your long term mental health. But if you’ve been diagnosed with depression and prescribed antidepressants, it’s just like taking medicine for a physical condition. They’re simply another treatment option to help you get better.
Like any drug, everyone has an individual response to antidepressants, though there are some common threads in the experience, and knowing what to expect can help you weather the side effects and know if your medication is working.
What antidepressants will you take?
There are several different categories of antidepressant medication, and different medicines within those, so if one isn’t working for your body and your brain, don’t be disheartened - there are always other options.
You’re most likely to be prescribed an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). Put simply, they’re thought to work by increasing the amount of seratonin (a hormone linked to mood, emotion and sleep) in your brain.
Psychologist Richard Reid from Pinnacle Therapy talked to us about what you can expect when you’re first prescribed them.
“GPs tend to have a preferred drug they prescribe, that they’ve had good results with. So they might always prescribe citalopram or sertraline in the first instance, but if they don’t suit, there are other options.”
He explains that there are two things to keep in mind when you first start taking antidepressants. The first is that they won’t work immediately.
“SSRIs build up in your system so you won’t feel the full benefits for a few weeks. The placebo effect can work faster than that, though, so you might find that you seem to feel better before the drug has really kicked in.
“This hope can bring a big lift and the fact that you can take some control can have an impact on its own.”
This is something to bear in mind if you initially feel better and then seem to get worse or plateaux. It could be that you’re on the wrong dosage, or that what you thought was making the difference was the drug, but actually it was the act of taking it.
The second thing to remember is that an antidepressant prescription is not for life.
“Unless it’s something extreme it only has to be a short term thing,” Richard says. “Weeks or months. If you go beyond that it’s just masking everyday issues. That’s why it’s important to check in with your GP and to combine it with talking therapy to help you tackle the underlying issues.”
What to expect at the beginning
“A common experience is to feel detached from your emotions,” says Richard. “You’re still aware that feelings are there but there’s a disconnect from them. Instead of extreme highs and lows, there can be an element of flatlining and some people find that disconcerting.”
Physically too, there may be some side effects to deal with while your body gets used to the medicine. Feeling sick, having a dry mouth, and losing interest in sex are all quite common.
“It varies enormously,” says Richard. “Even with the same medication, people react in different ways. You may find you get increased anxiety at the beginning, and a lot of people have difficulty sleeping and strange or lucid dreams.”
These side effects should all lessen after a week or two, and for for the most part antidepressants shouldn’t stop you working, or change your lifestyle too dramatically.
“I get asked a lot if you can drink on them,” says Richard. “You can, but remember alcohol is a depressant so it can be helpful to avoid it if you find it makes you feel worse.”
How will you feel if they’re working?
Antidepressants are designed to help you feel ‘normal’ again and to allow you to function as you did before you were depressed. But it can be hard to know, especially if you’ve been unwell for a long time and can’t remember what it’s like not to have depression.
Feeling able and enthusiastic to participate in everyday life again is a sign you’re improving, and you should find your energy levels get better.
“If they’re working, you should feel that you’re back in your normal range and feel able to deal with things that crop up,” say Richard.
“For most people, depression is linked to how they deal with the issues in their everyday life, so medicine can give them a reprieve, but learning to deal with these issues in a healthy way is vital for long term mental wellbeing.
“Antidepressants are a plaster over the wound but you need to treat the underlying cause with talking therapy so you can cope better in the future.”
When to go back to your GP
In some cases, the drugs won’t be right for you, and it’s always a good idea to go back to your GP if you’re worried.
“In most cases the medication will be absolutely fine,” reassures Richard. “It should take a few weeks to have its effect so if it doesn’t feel like it’s heading in the right direction within two to three weeks, go back to your doctor - even if it’s just to get reassurance.
“If you’re still feeling very down, your anxiety isn’t improving, or if you’re struggling to sleep, get yourself checked out.”
When will you be ready to come off antidepressants?
Just as starting antidepressants can be daunting, the idea of stopping them can be too, especially if they’ve brought a big improvement.
“When you’ve been feeling well for a little while, talk to your GP about how you come off the medication, then you can test if you’re ability to deal with everyday issues that you weren’t able to handle before,” says Richard.
“You may find that you need to be on the antidepressants for a little longer, or perhaps at a lower dose. Or you may find the drugs have done what they needed and you’re in a position to cope without them.”
Remember, you can experience withdrawal when you stop taking SSRIs abruptly, so it’s important to reduce your dose slowly, as directed by your doctor. You may also find it helpful to continue with talking therapy after you finish your course of antidepressants.
Depression is horrible thing to experience, but it’s very treatable, so don’t be afraid of asking for help and taking control - even if that means medication.
IN THE WORKPLACE
New Research on Depression in the Workplace.
For more information please click here
To subscribe to SADAG's newsletter, click here
Mental Health Matters Journal for Psychiatrists & GP's
Click here for more info on articles & how to subscribe
Literacy is a luxury that many of us take for granted. We depend on written communication for information, guidance, and access to heath care information That is why SADAG created SPEAKING BOOKS and revolutionized the way information is delivered to low literacy communities. It's exactly what it sounds like.a book that talks to the reader in his or her local language, delivering critical information in an interactive, and educational way.
The customizable 16-page book, accompanied by local celebrity audio recordings, ensures that vital health and social messages can be seen, heard, read and understood..
We started with books on Teen Suicide prevention , HIV, AIDS and Depression, Understanding Mental Health and have developed over 30 titles, such as TB, Malaria, Polio, Vaccines for over 30 countries.
- Click here to see speaking books in action
- Click here for sample book on clinical trials
- Click here for latest press release 1.
- Click here for latest press release 2.
- Click here to connect to international site www.booksofhope.com
- Speaking books for Health Care YouTube
What to expect when you start taking antidepressants
Medicine for depression is sometimes necessary, but taking SSRIs doesn’t have to be scary.
Dr Reddy's Help Line
0800 21 22 23
Pharmadynamics Police &Trauma Line
0800 20 50 26
Adcock Ingram Depression and Anxiety Helpline
0800 70 80 90
Destiny Helpline for Youth & Students
0800 41 42 43
0800 55 44 33
Department of Social Development Substance Abuse Line 24hr helpline
0800 12 13 14
Suicide Crisis Line
0800 567 567
SADAG Mental Health Line
011 234 4837
Akeso Psychiatric Response Unit 24 Hour
0861 435 787
Cipla Mental Health Helpline
0800 456 789
MENTAL HEALTH CALENDAR 2018
Teen Suicide Prevention Week
11 - 18 February
Bipolar Awareness Day
Substance Abuse Awareness Day
Mental Health Awareness Month
1 – 31 July
Panic Awareness Day
World Suicide Prevention Day
World Mental Health Day
View our list of informative Infographs.
SADAG KZN Branch
SADAG have launched a new office in Durban with the support of Psychiatrist Dr Suvira Ramlall and Clinical Psychologist, Suntosh Pillay.
The offices are placed in St Joseph’s Hospital and are managed by Lyn Norton.
The KZN Branch is deeply committed to;
- Launching new Support Groups
- Workshops on aspects of Mental Health
- School Talks on Suicide Prevention
- Corporate Wellness For KZN companies
Please click here for more information about the KZN activities.
Want to become a volunteer counsellor? Contact Michelle/Christine 0800 21 22 23
Download Application Form Here
If you are interested in starting a Support Group, please contact Michelle on 0800 21 22 23.
To find a Support Group in your area, please phone SADAG on 0800 21 22 23.
If you are a journalist writing a story contact Cassey on
011 234 4837 /email@example.com