Antidepressants have a bad reputation of being one of the least ideal ways to deal with mental health issues. This is due to a range of reasons; from people believing that you’re just pumping your body with drugs, the stigma on mental illness being something we can control naturally, and even a pharmacy propaganda to get people to buy more medication as antidepressants are “addictive”.
Having been on antidepressants for close to three years, there were plenty of lessons and facts I learnt that I would never have been aware of had I never taken them. Most contradicted what I was taught, and even opened my eyes on how antidepressants can truly help a person recover.
As such, here are five facts that I learned while I was on antidepressants. Hopefully it will help you if you’re using this as a guide in your decision to take antidepressants.
1. Antidepressants will affect your stomach a lot
Your stomach is key to producing serotonin. That much needed chemical that you’re low on that’s causing you to feel depressed (among other things). As such, your antidepressant functions by getting your stomach to produce serotonin. This is also why plenty of the side effects will not just affect your brain but your stomach too. So prepare for issues like stomach aches, nausea, appetite loss, diarrhea or constipation, and more.
Of course, there are other side effects to worry about, but this shows how much what you eat affects your mental health too. A fun fact related to this is that carbs help your body make serotonin! Unfortunately this leads to cravings for carbs that would likely lead to the dreaded side effect of weight gain. (You can read about my weight gain here.) Even then I wouldn’t recommend going on a no-carb diet to lose weight if you’re on antidepressant.
As hard as it is, I would recommend eating a balanced amount of carbs to aid in raising your serotonin!
2. Antidepressants are not instant happy pills
No, you’re not going to feel like all your troubles are gone and feel happy all the time. That’s now how antidepressants work. What they do is akin to calming the thoughts in your head a bit more so you can think clearer. It’s a lot like helping you be on the same level of other people. Visually, it’s like having the weights on your body lighten so you can run like everyone else.
But just because you can run, doesn’t mean you know how so that’s where therapy and other tools come in. What’s important with antidepressants is that you’re not held back by your brain functions going awry, so you can then proceed to work on what matters to you.
3. Antidepressants are not addictive
The biggest reason so many people are against taking antidepressants is the fear of having to take it for the rest of your life. There’s definitely a stigma that antidepressants do more harm than good, and because antidepressants do come with side effects (that vary per person) both going on and off it, well… it’s no wonder people are against antidepressants in general.
But here’s the truth; You can be on antidepressants for a minimum of 6-9 months or even for as long as you want. The choice will be made between you and the doctor, as there are plenty of factors to consider once you decide to stop. Has your environment changed for the better? Are there still triggers or stressors that caused your mental illness? Have you equipped yourself with enough tools to help you handle challenges? Are you leading a healthy lifestyle?
Some people think antidepressants are addictive because of the drugs, when it also depends on the level of trauma and mental illness the user has suffered. You can read about this more through this article by the APA here that discusses both possibilities.
The solution to stop antidepressants isn’t just to stop taking it and move on with life. It’s whether a person has enough tools in place to handle their condition now that they’re removing one tool; antidepressants.
I also want to emphasise that if a person decides to use antidepressants for the rest of their lives, it’s totally up to them and they have a right to do so. It may be for the best, as their mental illness may be so serious that no other tools will work for them. And they have every right to stick to them, especially if it means the safety of themselves and others.
4. Generic versions can make antidepressants affordable
Antidepressants also have a reputation of being pretty expensive, and there’s some truth to that. So if you’re on a budget, discuss with your doctor on trying out generic antidepressants as those are really affordable. Here’s an example I found on Healthline to show you the difference:
Of course, it’s possible that the generic option may not work for you and you would have to stick to more expensive options. Just be sure to discuss with your doctor on this as best as you can get the appropriate medication that you need and within your spending means.
5. You can take antidepressants while pregnant but…
It’s not ideal, but it is a fact that you can be on antidepressants while being pregnant. Now I am not here to say that your baby will be safe and fine, there’s always a risk in doing this, so you must always discuss with your doctor about your options.
But shocking, right? When my doctor told me this it blew my mind. But he pointed out a valid fact; it may be safer to be on antidepressants when pregnant due to the possibility of the mother causing harm to herself or her baby when off medication.
If you’re already on antidepressants and got pregnant, depending on the medication, things can still go well. Always check with your doctor, always get guidance on this. Basically, you and your baby may still be fine.
But it’s during the last trimester that you will have to stop taking antidepressants. According to this article, the baby “might experience temporary signs and symptoms of discontinuation — such as jitters, irritability, poor feeding and respiratory distress — for up to a month after birth.”
It’s also not recommended to take antidepressants during nursing too. If the mother is a high risk though, the best option then is to be back on antidepressants and bottle feed the baby (which is another bag of worms altogether).
If you think that a mother who chooses this option is selfish, I would like to share this Twitter thread (in Malay) that really shows how mental illness can harm a mother and her child and why she needed to be on meds, as well as how having a weak faith in religion is NOT why a person suffers from mental illness.
Basically, the safety of a person can highly depend on their medication too. So a mother may still need to depend on antidepressants even if she were pregnant or breastfeeding. There’s a LOT of factors to consider, and my heart goes out to all mothers struggling with this as it’s such a heavy burden to bear.
Your mental health matters
I hope these facts give you some good insights on how antidepressants work and how important they are in general. If you’re considering getting antidepressants, I highly recommend talking to a doctor and check your options. Antidepressants are a great tool to help with mental illness, but they’re not always the best solution. A lot of factors need to be considered, so be informed, consider your situation, and go forth in doing what you can to take care of your mental health.