Feeling bad about taking antidepressants?

There is no question that antidepressants are overprescribed by many doctors. The same goes for tranquilizers. The rate of antidepressant and tranquillizer intake in First World countries has reached alarming proportions: clearly better education, more money, and improved lifestyles have done little to make us happier as a species.

However, despite the generalized overconsumption of antidepressants, there are many cases where antidepressants are definitely the treatment of choice. Yet many people feel guilty about taking them, often delaying treatment until they are so sick that not only are antidepressants required, but often hospitalization as well.

We often give ourselves a hard time for having to take these drugs, telling ourselves that we “should” be able to cope, or that if we just pushed ourselves a little harder, we would be back to our normal happy selves. These sorts of ideas are often reinforced by our family and friends.

Many a patient has confided that they take their medication secretly, because if their spouse found out they were taking antidepressants, there would be hell to pay. One lady used to hide her bottle of antidepressants in the cleaning cupboard (a location her husband was unlikely to visit!) and carry the tablets around in ones and twos in a pill container in her bag. She was under enough stress, without having to add on the stress of hiding both her condition and medication habits from her nearest and dearest. Yet for her, it was the best way to survive.

Drugs are not the only way to counteract depression, despite what psychiatrists may tell you. Most people are aware of the theory that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. This is a theory only. And it is a theory that suits many doctors, and certainly multi-national drug companies, to expound. There does not exist a definitive test to measure neurotransmitter levels in the brain, so the “theory” of a chemical imbalance remains just that: a theory.

That aside, antidepressants can be a valuable tool in the battle again depression, and in many cases have been life savers. When the symptoms of depression are overwhelming, such that living a normal life becomes difficult or impossible, then antidepressants are the way to go. If you find yourself in this situation, try your best to accept it, while resisting the urge to berate yourself for being “weak”. You are not weak. You are sick. If you were diagnosed with diabetes, no-one, including yourself, would be on your case for having to take insulin each day.

It is very easy to regard mental illness as being not legitimate, not real, and society will often reflect that view back to you. But you know it is real, very real. So, if you find yourself in a position where antidepressants are the best solution, go easy on yourself. It can also be difficult to disregard the rude comments or disapproving looks of others, especially when you are feeling down. Remember that a person who acts this way has not experienced the pain of mental illness. They simply do not understand.

Sometimes it can be very hurtful to be on the receiving end of such comments, but try to think of it this way: If a male obstetrician told you that the pain of childbirth didn’t exist, you’d laugh at him (or perhaps do something a little more physical!) A male obstetrician can never know what it feels like, just as a person who has never suffered the torment of mental illness can never know what it feels like. You’d take no notice of the obstetrician. Try to take no notice of those who do not know.

Coming up: When taking antidepressants is not a good idea.

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