Note: This is not medical advice. This is my opinion based on my experiences. Always consult your doctor.
1 in 5 adults in the United States experience mental illness each year. I am a part of that statistic, and I use several different methods to treat my depression and anxiety. Taking medication is one of those methods. I am not ashamed to admit that medication helps me on a daily basis.
Taking medicine for depression or another mental health disorder should not have a stigma in this day and age, but unfortunately it still does. We have come a long way in being accepting of those who struggle with their mental health, but there are still some lingering judgements and misconceptions in our society. I think a lot of that comes from misunderstandings of what mental illness is really like and how these medications actually work.
A medication is prescribed based on a person’s diagnosis. My primary diagnosis is depression, so the medication prescribed to me is antidepressants. Other medications typically prescribed for other mental illnesses include anti-anxiety medications, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers. I’m going to focus on antidepressants because that is what I’m most familiar with, and talk about four common myths of antidepressants that I hear all the time.
Myth #1: You will be “drugged up” if you take antidepressants.
Some people confuse antidepressants with benzodiazepines like Xanax, but they are not the same thing. They are used for different purposes and work completely differently. Additionally, antidepressants have come a long way from when they first came out. Older generations of these prescriptions worked differently and had different and more severe side effects. I have never felt “out of it,” “drugged up,” or any sort of “high” from taking an antidepressant. That is not how they work, and they are not addictive.
The most common type of antidepressants are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) which block the reabsorption of serotonin, so that more is available to transmit messages in your brain. Other antidepressants may affect other neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine or dopamine.
Myth #2: Taking antidepressants is “the easy way out.”
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this, I’d be a rich woman! This couldn’t be further from the truth. Antidepressants aren’t a magic pill that eliminate all your problems. They simply help regulate the chemicals in your brain to normal levels so that you have a fighting chance at tackling your problems.
Without antidepressants, I used all my energy to make myself get out of bed, muster up the energy to take a shower, and took all the motivation I had to go through the motions of the day all while feeling terrible. With antidepressants, I do not have to fight so much with my own mind and body to do the most basic human tasks. I am able to use my energy to create healthier habits and do the work I need to do in therapy.
Myth #3: You can’t take antidepressants while pregnant or breastfeeding.
This is not necessarily true. The choice of whether or not to take antidepressants is determined on a case-by-case basis. Like every medication, it comes with some risks. But what is often left unsaid is that untreated depression also has risks to both the mother and baby, possibly leading to “prematurity, low birth weight, and intrauterine growth restriction” during pregnancy and childhood development after pregnancy. You and your provider can weigh the risks and determine if the benefits of taking medicine are in the best interest of you and your baby. Breastfeeding mamas can look up each type of medication on LactMed.
Personally, I have taken antidepressants throughout all three of my pregnancies and through the entire duration of breastfeeding with no adverse effects.
Myth #4: The antidepressant I took didn’t work, or the side effects were too bad, so medication is not an option for me.
There are many different kinds of antidepressants and some may work better for you than others. There can be a bit of trial and error period to determine what will work best for you. The dosage amount may also need to be adjusted.
Each medication does come with side effects, but I’ve found that most side effects I’ve experienced are mild (nausea, dizziness, fatigue) and will go away after a few weeks for the most part. That is not the case for everyone, but if you find that your side effects seem too much to bear, it may be worth it to try a different medication. It can make a world of difference to find the right one! Of course, medication may still not work for everyone, but there are different options you can try.
The decision about whether to take antidepressants is a very personal decision. If you are currently trying to make this decision, I hope that this information was helpful. If you are a friend or family member of someone who takes medication, I hope this information inspires you to be supportive of their decision.
Mental health is so important, and antidepressants are one tool of many that can be used to manage it. It’s nothing to be afraid of, or ashamed of.