There are many common misconceptions and myths about antidepressants. We don’t mind taking birth control pills, antibiotics, vitamins or supplements, but antidepressants are regarded by many people as dangerous and addictive substances that only make things worse. Many of those opinions come from patients who had the bad luck to get the wrong kind of meds, or those who point at the lobby of pharmaceutical companies and have never had anything to do with it.
Concerning the increase in their prescription by 400 percent since 1988 and the fact that over 11 percent of Americans (over the age of 12) are on antidepressants, one may think we eat them like candies. But according to recent studies, that makes only one-third of all who show symptoms of depression, which meant that most aren’t receiving any treatment. No wonder that there have arisen many harmful myths about antidepressants.
From my own experience, I can tell you that starting the treatment was the best decision I made within the last three years. I’ve been on escitalopram for almost a year now, and it worked for me like a charm. I also have a loving and supporting family, an awesome therapist, and make enough money to pay for my therapy. Yeah, I admit I’m lucky. Apart from just a few side effects that were not a big nuisance, thanks to the treatment I feel like I’m back the person I used to be.
So, let me bust all the myths about antidepressants – once and for all.
Myth #1: Antidepressants change your personality
No medicine or substance can change your personality or character. All they can do is to alter your behavior, mood, sexual drive, but the essence of who you are remains the same. If after having spent three years in bed you suddenly feel better and come back to life, it means the pills are working. You’re in recovery, that’s all. It may feel as if you’re not the person you used to be, but I would rather say, it’s the experience of depression that has changed the way you perceive the world and your life priorities.
However, if you’re on the wrong meds it may happen that an antidepressant causes you to feel disconnected, but it’s a pretty rare side effect. In such case, you should report it to your psychiatrist, who will decide if the dosage or the kind of medication should be changed.
Myth #2: Antidepressants are dangerous
There is no medical substance without side effects. Alas, even natural herbs for depression have their side effects and one should be very careful with them. The reason why each year the list of potential side effects of antidepressants gets longer is that they’re being constantly tested and researched. That means they’re safe to use.
Antidepressants known as SSRI are, in fact, the most popular and one of the safest groups of psychoactive meds. Except for just a few cases, they generally don’t interact with other meds or alcohol. They also don’t affect motor skills (no problem with driving or operating machines), and are hard to overdose.
My advice is that, if you’ve noticed anything strange, share your observations with your doctor, so they can modify the dosage or change the substance for something that fits you better.
Myth #3: Antidepressants make you put on weight
Not necessarily. Depending on the active substance and other factors, antidepressants may increase your appetite, as well as decrease it. Which, combined with the kind of symptoms of depression you have regarding eating habits, may be, or may be not favorable to you. But, as a rule, if you put on weight, it’s because you’ve increased your calorie intake, or reduced your physical activity, or both. Antidepressants don’t make you pack on weight themselves.
Myth #4: Antidepressants are the “happy pills”
I’m sorry to disappoint you. Antidepressants are not a legal way to get high. Yeah, I wish there were too. The stories from the 80. about pills that solve all your problems are very much exaggerated, as any marketing bullshit. Depression is a disease that alters brain chemistry, and taking the drug is a way to fix it. If the drug prescribed to you works as it should, you feel just normal which helps you to get through the day.
Actually, if it feels just awesome, that’s when you should be concerned. For those suffering from bipolar disorder, it may mean that it’s triggered a manic episode.
Myth #5: Antidepressants fix the whole problem
Nope, they don’t. After two or three weeks, if you’ve been prescribed the right meds, you should already notice the difference. It may be enough if you got depressed as a result of hypothyroidism. But if your depression was triggered by a life situation or a traumatic experience, the pills will not improve your life drastically by themselves. When you’re severely depressed, you need to alleviate the symptoms in order to be able to focus on the psychological side of the problem. The best results can be achieved with a treatment that combines medication with therapy (e.g. MBCT).
Breaking out of the vicious circle of depression requires changing your destructive thinking habits, self-forgiveness, and self-acceptance, which can be achieved in therapy. I also was very skeptical about therapy when my doctor suggested it, but in the end, I’m happy I did it.
Myth #6: Antidepressants are for the weak. Strong people manage to get over depression themselves.
Unless you’re Baron von Munchhausen, you won’t pull yourself out of a bog by the hair. Just as you don’t treat a broken leg at home, you shouldn’t be treating a broken soul on your own. Taking meds doesn’t make one a failure, on the contrary – it means you’re self-conscious and you’re taking care of yourself, instead of sweeping the problem under the carpet. Admitting that something’s wrong with you, and doing something about it is a proof of courage.
Myth #7: Antidepressants are addictive
Some psychoactive substances are addictive, but modern antidepressants are not the case. As it takes two to three weeks to feel them work, your brain gets no instant reward and doesn’t associate the pills with a state of well-being, which is how addiction works. Yet, you shouldn’t stop taking your pills as soon as you start feeling better. Sudden withdrawal may cause a relapse of depression, so in most cases, the treatment should be continued for another 6 months after the disappearance of symptoms.
I’ve been taking mine for almost a year and have no craving. In fact, I have to make effort not to forget to take them. They make me feel in full control of my life, and my behavior is much more social and productive.
Myth #8: Antidepressants cause suicidal thoughts
Well, all the meds for depression I’ve taken really contained such an information. Yet, it’s not the substance itself that causes suicidal thoughts, but rather the psychological mechanism of depression. As it takes them about 3 weeks to start working, patients who see no effect at the beginning may start losing hope. Longing for a noticeable change, we worry a lot if it doesn’t manifest itself. And worrying leads to a depressive mood, which leads to more worrying, etc. For this reason, in the beginning of the treatment, I was prescribed benzodiazepines to calm my anxiety and let the proper antidepressants work.
Myth #9: Antidepressants make you numb
There is no such thing as a one-fits-all medication, so some substances may not work for you, or trigger undesired side effects.
Before I began the treatment, I was overwhelmed by rage and fear, so when the pills started working, I felt like a zombie for a moment. But the unnatural calm didn’t last long, and was over after a week.
Once I managed to control the overflow of negative emotions with medication, I started to feel a whole spectrum of different emotions that I hadn’t felt for a long time.
Myth #10: Antidepressants ruin your sex drive
Again, they may, because in some people they cause the inability to achieve orgasm. But that’s not my case.
For me, what kills my libido (and that of a partner too) is being depressed and anxious all the time. So the antidepressants actually improved it very much.
I am not saying that medication is the only solution. It’s just one of many solutions, which give the best results when combined. Find a doctor you trust, observe your reactions to the medication prescribed and report them to your psychiatrist.