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What I Have Learned From Antidepressants.

I have taken antidepressants for a very long time, and I can thankfully say that they have worked for me the last few years. There are a lot of stories that are for the use and against the use of these drugs. For me, I found that the most important thing to help me deal with depression and the use of antidepressants was the education I got. I was fortunate that I have had family involved in medicine. Their knowledge and experiences, along with my own medical education allowed me to understand how they work and to put a lot of things in perspective. I want to share some of the biggest things that I have learned. 

Medicine is not an exact science, especially when it comes to mental health! A lot of people know this statement to be true, but I don't think that a lot of people actually believe it. Your doctor is probably a very smart person, yet many doctors want you to believe that they know everything about the human body and how to treat illnesses. We trust in them to do the best for us and that is their intent, to help make us feel better. However, as patients and consumers of their business, we have to remember that they are still human. They can and do make mistakes. Being human, they can be influenced by outside sources, like advertising by the drug companies. Drug companies would not spend billions of dollars on entertaining the medical profession if their advertisements did not work. Drug companies are businesses and are in it for the money, but remember that any company that makes a product will not make any money if that product does not work. This is especially difficult in mental health. We know a lot about the human body, but science is far from knowing everything and the brain is very much an enigma in the eyes of science. 

Make smart choices in who prescribes your medication! You would not ask your plumber to do your taxes, so why seek a doctor who isn't a specialist? A lot of general practitioners are not equipped to truly deal with mental health problems. Colds, sores, ingrown toenails, massive diarrhea; these are why you see a GP. Mental illnesses are specific problems, hence that is why we have psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and so on. When I first starting having problems, I went to my GP but after months of taking a drug, I found out that my dosage was so low that it would have been intended for children. He wasn't a bad doctor, he just didn't know better. Psychiatrists are the ones who specialize in the chemical properties of the brain and that is every case they deal with on a daily basis. As a general rule, psychiatrists are better equipped to handle prescribing medicine for mental illness. There is a huge caveat to seeing a psychiatrist these days and that is the revolving door type. There are a lot of them and there is a reason. There is a huge (as in massive) demand for mental treatment and a huge shortage of mental health workers. Chances are one will never see a psychiatrist but a practitioner. The most important thing is to find someone you are confident in prescribing your drugs. A doctor that is able to explain why you are taking a drug at a certain dose, one that is able to answer your questions with clarity about the drugs you are taking, someone who is willing to help you understand why you are taking the medications that you are. Don't be afraid to shop around either. I've had to get second and third opinions before I found someone I could trust. 

Everyone reacts differently to different drugs! Antidepressants are weird drugs because we don't really know how they exactly work. There are theories and data to back up what they do, but there is no antidepressant that is fully understood in how all the chemical interactions work. When you mix this with the complexity of the human brain, a lot of trial and error is required. It may take many attempts at different dosages and different drugs to find one that works for your needs. Drug X may work for me, but it may not work for you. There are complex interactions that take place in the brain and maybe my need of a certain type of chemical is different then yours, yet we both have depression. It is important to read the experiences of other patients, both good and bad, to know how this drug fits you. Listen to what your body tells you, if it does not feel right, maybe its time to do something different. 

You are in control of your drugs, not your doctor. No doctor can force you to take a drug you don't want, with exceptions to immediate danger to yourself or others, (i.e. suicidal or homicidal actions). Many GP and psychiatrists love to ramp up a dosage on a drug over and over again, and sometimes this works. If you do not feel like you are taking the right drug, or you have ill effects, you have the right to say NO! If they don't listen, you can always take your business elsewhere. With that being said, I would never recommend stop taking an antidepressant cold turkey. This has had horrible effects for me and for a few others who I have known. 

It takes time. Antidepressants are not like aspirin for a headache. Many antidepressants require time to build up a sufficient amount of chemical before you will notice results. This can take weeks or even months. This is just how many of these drugs work and it really sucks when every day seems like a horrid nightmare and you just want some relief. Sorry, but in reality, it just does not how they work.

Most importantly, antidepressants will never work alone. The bad thing about advertising drugs is the illusion that taking a drug will alter your mood and make you a happy, life loving, cheerful person again. I liken it to a stone worker who wants to carve a statue but only has a hammer. Without the chisel, he is only going to bash pointlessly at stone. The chisel, in this case, is the support you give yourself. Individual or group therapy, supportive family and friends, exercise, trying new things, etc... These are a few examples of the chisel. These are the things that will do the actual cutting away of the depression and finding the elegant person hidden within. 

It takes time to get the right antidepressant to work and it is not easy. Antidepressants alone won't help you by themselves and it is important to remember that. Even the smallest effort to support the drugs with little bit of change can have profound effects down the road. Sometimes, just becoming more understanding about what you are taking and knowing that you are in control of your drugs can be a confidence builder that helps you in the long run. 

Good luck!
Twillback Twillback 31-35, M 5 Responses Jun 8, 2010

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Thank you for this.

I was searching on this site for some advice about antidepressants and this is exactly what I was looking for. Very balanced.

I've been weighing up the pros and cons of medication for a long time. Friends have told me they can help give you a bit more energy and motivation to deal with things, and one said it stops her waking up with that overwhelming feeling of dread.

I have been considering it a lot as things are getting tough... I seem to go up and down quite a lot, and when things are going really well it sneaks up on me again out of nowhere. I feel like maybe it's worth trying medication but I am really scared of it too.

I must say this is very thorough and accurate. A well written piece everyone here should read.<br />
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A couple of things worth highlighting is that many still think meds cure depression. They don't but the relieve our symptoms to elevate our moods sufficiently to allow therapy to be effective, particularly CBT.<br />
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The other thing is how right you are about finding the right med. It can take so long for so many and even when they do find a good one people often give up on it when it stops helpng instead of increasing doseage, with docs agreement and discussion.<br />
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That first couple of weeks of side effects turns people away from so many drugs that do help many. It's hard to know when it really hurts and when the side effects are temporary so it's easy to understand why it is done but the doc should know the difference.<br />
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Sorry, one more. The thing abouts seeing a shrink. I say ONLY ever see a shrink first if it id depression or you suspect it. GP's and psychs don't have the range of knowledge so your comments there are exactly right to me. SO many battle along with GP's whodon't have the time or knowledge and just use what the drug company is pushing as you say.<br />
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Excellent advice which should be made cenral by this site as general advice before you start. Don't know if they do that here but I ask right now if this is possible?

I understand what you are saying But I work in the healthcare field and managers in this field are prejudiced against employees who take drugs for depression, anxiety or other mental health problems. You are made to feel that anything that goes wrong is your fault. You are looked down upon and they look for anything to get you fired. They are very kind , considerate and caring to patients who may have emotional problems, but treat their employees and coworkers completly the opposite.

I am getting concerned that my GP really doesn't know much about Venlafaxine. I'm now on 150 a day and if I'm late taking it I get depressed and have really stange, hellish dreams. I mentioned to my GP that I'm having withdrawal symptom so quickly and he said that I was not having withdrawal symptom, that these reactions were just because my body and brain really needed the drug. From everything I've read on this site and the Effexor site, this certainly isn't the case. Why don't GPs stay up on the facts if they're suggesting these drugs to patients? I guess I've been on Venlafaxine for about a year. My memory is really bad lately - apparently another side effect of Venlafaxine/Effexor.

Thanks for posting this piece, it's great. There's a lot of common sense in there, but some of us need to be reminded. Medication is a tool, and like any other tool it needs to be used properly. <br />
Not every tool works on every job either. If the first few meds you try don't help, don't give up. If you need to drive a nail you might get a saw, a screwdriver and drill before you find the hammer. <br />
I'd also reiterate the point that medication is only part of the solution. I work as hard as my medication does to maintain a healthy attitude. Medication can give you the boost to do the work that needs to be done, it won't cure your crappy relationships, your bad habits, your self destructive behaviours and your unstable lifestyle. Until you are willing to make those changes, meds are a waste of time and money. <br />
Please don't be scared of medication. They can help, but you have to give them every opportunity to succeed.<br />
Thanks Twillback!<br />
TW