Mamamia spoke to six different women about their experiences with antidepressants. Here are their stories.
I was first prescribed antidepressants (Venlafaxine/Effexor) six years ago, during a crippling bout of depression and anxiety.
I was spending all my time in bed. I couldn’t write a sentence and it looked like I wasn’t going to finish my University degree. I was filled with hate and anger and was stuck in a toxic cycle that I felt completely unable to free myself from.
My mum took me to the GP, and I was prescribed Venlafaxine on the spot.
The next morning I woke up feeling like there were electric currents surging through my body. Whatever was in my head didn’t feel like my brain. I went to the bathroom and threw up. Then I fainted.
I spent the next three days on the lounge being sick. When the car pulled up in the driveway that afternoon, my heart nearly exploded out of my chest. Every sound was amplified. I was constantly nauseous and had an awful taste in my mouth. It was hell.
I had been prescribed far too high a dose of medication – and once I halved it, everything changed.
Simply, it saved my life.
It was like I got a jump start. My sleeping patterns changed and the negative self-talk quietened. But the best thing was a sensation I felt returning. As I stood at work one day, I felt butterflies creep back into my stomach – good butterflies. I suppose it’s anticipation or vitality. I had rediscovered my zest for life.
My sex drive plummeted for a while but then it came back. I also experienced night sweats and bad dreams, but those side effects were worth it.
After a number of years, I felt a bit disconnected, and like I wasn’t feeling the full spectrum of human emotion. I found that in some situations, I was unable to cry which felt really uncomfortable.
I decided to go off them, without consulting a doctor. What ensued was one of the worst periods of my life. I got so enormously depressed, and was having panic attacks on my way to work every morning. I ended up needing time off, and then switched to a different medication.
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Now I’m on Lexapro, and have been for more than two years. For me, it’s had far less side effects than Venlafaxine, although every now and then I still get night sweats.
My sleep has improved enormously. I have energy and experience excitement. I still cry if I feel sad, and no longer feel disconnected. They have been an absolute godsend.
In my teens I went on a very light antidepressant after struggling a lot with body image.
I started taking them right before I went on an overseas exchange in Year 11, where I had the time of my life. So I figured they worked, but that could’ve been the change in environment or that I was having lots of fun.
I’ve struggled on and off with depression, or just feeling down since then, but it wasn’t until just recently – seven years on from when I first took antidepressants – that my depression started having a big effect on my life. After moving to a new city where I didn’t know anyone, living out of home away from my family for the first time, and starting my first real job, it got to a stage where I couldn’t face getting out of bed.
I’d call in fake sick, and when I did come to work, I’d sometimes go and sit in the toilets to have a little cry to myself, or I’d be counting the minutes until I could go home to bed.
One day it got too much, and when I went to the doctor to get another sick certificate for taking the time off work, I decided to come clean to the doctor and admit I needed some help. She helped me put together a plan of attack, which after some evaluation, included a daily 50mg dose of Sertraline.
Personally I haven't experienced any side effects, but what I have noticed is being on the medication has helped to even my moods out. I can now deal with small things that happen in my day rationally, rather than letting them break me down for days or even weeks. I still struggle from time to time, but on a whole I'm a far happier person, and taking the medication along with looking at other mental health treatments has helped me to succeed at work and feel comfortable in myself and where I'm at in life.
I was on antidepressants (an SSRI) for about two years.
I had absolutely zero sex drive during this time. Every time I tried to go off them (Citalopram), I would get extremely sick and give in and take them again (nobody ever tells you your body will get withdrawals).
I decided to come off them when I had a ‘quarter life crisis’ and was more depressed and anxious than ever before. I went to a new doctor who put me on a different form on antidepressants, this time Lexapro.
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I didn’t experience any withdrawal symptoms when switching to these and was able to stop taking them cold turkey to focus on a more holistic approach as I always had side effects and was still unwell. I went off my birth control and antidepressants and was prescribed a natural ‘antidepressant’ by my naturopath that worked so well for me.
I felt energetic and like myself again with no side effects. I now don’t take any medication and focus on what I eat and moving my body, whenever I lose track of this goal I feel my mental health spiralling.
Towards the end of my marriage, I was very unhappy, and thought I might be depressed.
I was prescribed antidepressants, and I'm not sure even sure what the brand was called. They didn't work.
I then decided to go to therapy, where I found out I wasn't depressed, I just didn't love my husband anymore, and it turns out you can't take a pill for that.
The first SSRI I went on was called Arapax which is in the same family as Prozac. It was about 20 years ago, and although I don't remember a lot about that drug, I do recall it gave me the shakes. That doctor (he was a child psychiatrist) also put me on Ducene which wasn't a great idea for a depressed teenager. I changed doctors.
Then for some reason unknown to me, I changed to Prozac itself. I don't think it had much effect either. I was then moved to a different family of antidepressants known as tricyclics, but I wasn't on them for very long. They didn't work either. I don't know if the drug itself didn't work, or perhaps if it would have just been better to treat a teenager with therapy as well as medication, which we didn't do.
Then I was moved to Effexor, which I have been on and off since I was 17. I have also used it in conjunction with augmentation drugs like Epilem (used to treat epilepsy), Lithium and Ritalin.
Lithium made me put on weight and also paranoid that I was bipolar (Lithium is used to treat bipolar) but no one told me and they made me take it secretly - this was not the case, its just supposed to augment and enhance the main drug. My vanity ended that one.
Pairing it with Ritalin worked for a while and I felt great, but then I was feeling really good the first few hours after taking the pair and then I'd feel anxiety which I'd never really experienced before. Not good.
I've been on and off Effexor for the past 10 years. I was doing really well for the past few years, so a little over a year ago I decided to stop taking it. As a result, I had the worst anxiety of my life for three months nonstop and went back on it. I got much better pretty quickly, but I'm told it's not a drug you can come off straight away, you need to do it gradually over a period of a year.
I won't be tempting fate again anytime soon.
I suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and over the years, multiple doctors have tried to get me on antidepressants, all of which have made my anxiety worse.
The most dramatic experience I had was with Paxil. I took the pill, went to bed, and when I woke in the morning, I couldn't tell if I was actually awake or not. I sat up, but couldn't orientate myself as to where the floor was. The feeling went on for several scary minutes. I tried to stand, and the floor moved, and I briefly felt as if I was standing on the ceiling. Once that sensation passed, I spent the rest of the day trembling with violent anxiety.
I have never found an antidepressant that works for me sadly, so I rely on therapy and occasional sedatives instead.
If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.