Nearly 30 years after the introduction of Prozac (the first antidepressant discovered), there are still many misconceptions surrounding taking medication to treat a mental illness.
A recent study by University of Westminster published in Social Science and Medicine found that the stigma surrounding antidepressants is still so significant that people have concerns about the medication akin to illicit substance taking. Including that they feel they can’t tell anyone about using it, that antidepressants are addictive and that medication will change who they are as a person.
A consequence of this, dishearteningly so, is that those experiencing severe depression or mental illness who are the most likely to benefit from taking antidepressant medication may think twice about using it.
We debunk five common misconceptions about antidepressants.
Myth 1: Antidepressants will change your personality.
When they’re used appropriately, antidepressants can result in an improvement in a person’s feelings, they do not intrinsically change who you are. Research, Policy and Evaluation Advisor for beyondblue, Dr Stephen Carbone, explains that the fear of antidepressants changing your personality goes back a long time.
Media personality Jessica Rowe has experienced post-natal depression. She talks to Mamamia TV about her experience. (Post continues after gallery.)
“Yes, antidepressant medications, like most medications, have side effects and they vary so much from person to person. Some people notice a change in their emotions or a feeling of numbness but most of the changes are physical (like nausea, headaches or a change in appetite or sleep patterns). If people with moderate to severe depression and or anxiety conditions are using it appropriately, what they are going to experience is an improvement in the way they feel, not a worsening in the way they feel psychologically,” he explains.
“We need to accept that antidepressants are not required for everyone with anxiety or depression, but when they are required they are safe, appropriate and effective, as long as they’re provided under close medical supervision.”
Myth 2: Taking antidepressants is something to feel ashamed about.
Although times are changing, there’s still a way to go in trying to de-stigmatise mental health issues and help people to understand that medication is nothing to feel embarrassment about.
“I’m not saying antidepressant medications are necessary for every person with depression or anxiety but even those for whom it is appropriate and helpful, people often feel shame or embarrassment,” explains Dr Carbone.
“They shouldn’t be made to feel bad for using a prescription medication that is doing them good. The same thing would never occur for treating heart disease, or diabetes or any other sort of condition.” (Post continues after gallery.)
Myth 3: Antidepressants are addictive.
Research from the University of Westminster found that a common concern people have about antidepressants is that they’re addictive. It’s simply not true.
Discontinuation can bring on distressing symptoms, yes, but they’re not associated with a physical dependency on the medication. (Post continues after gallery.)
Myth 4: It’s some kind of moral failing.
One myth we urge you not to buy into is that taking antidepressants somehow means you’re not as strong as other people. Depression and anxiety don’t discriminate, so by taking actions to help yourself, such as taking medication, you’re showing huge strength of character.
“Depression and anxiety can effect people from all walks of life, all age groups, backgrounds, economic statuses or locations. Everyone is different and everyone will need their own individualised treatment that works for them – from lifestyle changes and psychological therapies to medical therapies,” Dr Carbone explains.
“I think the more people learn about what these conditions are, the signs, symptoms, what the treatments are and who can provide them, the better they will be able to look after themselves and then use their health care providers to support them.”
If you have concerns that you may be experiencing depression and/or anxiety, see your GP for further information about what treatment options would be best suited for you.
What do you find are the biggest myths surrounding antidepressants?