health

From the highs to the lows: We asked three women what life is really like on antidepressants.

This post deals with suicide and might be triggering for some readers.

Whether you're dealing with depression and anxiety, or know someone who is, you might've wondered what it's really like to be on antidepressants.

How do they make you feel? Can you actually feel anything? Are there any major side effects? Does it mess with your emotions?

With an increased proportion of people being diagnosed with mental health problems, now around one in eight Australians are currently taking antidepressants.

And like any drug, how people respond to antidepressants varies. 

"There are different classes of antidepressants, so a lot of the initial work is around the history and examination of someone presenting with symptoms of anxiety/depression (which often go hand in hand) and determining if they’d benefit from medication and if so, which class/category," explains GP Dr Imaan Joshi.

"Even so, a review at the two to four week mark may show minimal improvement because the dose might be inadequate, or the class incorrect or a patient may report unacceptable side effects and cease the medication, so that we return to basics," she said.

Watch: 5 lifestyle hacks to help with your anxiety. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

So, just how effective are antidepressants?

Well, according to Dr Joshi, large scale studies indicate that antidepressants are just as good as therapy in helping with anxiety and depression.

"The two undertaken together probably work better than either arm on its own with relapse more likely with either/or," said Dr Joshi.

"Up to 80 per cent of people stop taking prescribed antidepressants within a month without discussing with their treating doctor due to side effects or other causes, so having a therapeutic relationship and looking at treatment options as an ongoing process rather than a 'quick fix' is imperative."

Unfortunately due to a combo of complex symptoms, stigma and stereotypes many women's mental health struggles still remain hidden.

"There’s still a fair bit of stigma around mental health, especially around taking medication for it or attending regular therapy for understanding yourself," said Dr Joshi.

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"Just as with other aspects of preventive health and care, I wish people could understand that seeking help with mental wellness is an empowering thing and not something to be embarrassed of or to defer - especially if it’s affecting day-to-day function and relating with others."

So, we're here to open up a conversation. 

We asked three women to share what it feels like to be on antidepressant medication. Here's what they said.

Emmeline, 29.

To me, antidepressants help me get my life back. They made every day bearable, while still allowing me to feel like myself. 

The highs are more rational thinking - I am able to make decisions without spiralling, or have an interaction with someone without dissecting it and getting anxious.

I actually don't experience any lows. However some friends and family had a hard time adjusting to it, and if they forget to take one or two, they get some pretty bad side effects.

I'm still on them and don't plan to go off them any time soon, especially considering we're still in the middle of a global pandemic!

Just like we don't make assumptions about people who take medication for migraines so they can make it through the day, we need to see antidepressants in the same way. In fact, often people who take them are responsibly treating their mental health as opposed to ignoring the need for medical intervention. 

I was almost waiting for years for a doctor to suggest antidepressants, but you don't need to wait for that to bring it up with your GP. Talk to them if you're struggling.

Listen to this episode of No Filter, where Mia interviews a woman living with 'Relationship OCD'. Post continues after podcast.

Sinead, 23.

At the time I decided to go on antidepressants, two of my closest friend’s sisters had passed away from suicide, I had trouble getting marks for what I wanted to do at university, and was feeling very lost. I thought going on antidepressants would fix everything, make me feel happy again, and help me return to my ‘old self’. This wasn’t necessarily the case.

In my head, I thought the antidepressants ‘balanced me out’. There were periods where I felt okay, and sometimes it was almost as if had no feelings, I felt numb and detached. 

Along with this, I had massive breakdowns every so often - it was like my feelings were getting stored and built up until I couldn’t handle it anymore. I felt that my parents didn’t understand how I was feeling and often lashed out at them, even though they just wanted to help me. 

I continued to feel really sh**ty for almost a year until I made the decision to seek professional help - this is what ultimately changed things for me. My psychologist helped me take hold of my life and my feelings, and I was encouraged to go off the antidepressants if I felt they didn’t help me – because everyone is different.

When I started to wean myself off them, I got very sick - which made me realise the huge chemical/biochemical effects they had on my body. I essentially went through withdrawals; I was ill for three days. But after coming off them, and seeing my psychologist regularly I felt better than ever.

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I have been off antidepressants for over a year now. I think I was at such a low point in my life that I thought the antidepressants would just be a 'quick fix'. I believe along with taking them, you really need to seek professional help as your feelings will not just magically disappear. 

Cathy, 50.

I should preface this with saying I have a complicated relationship with medication. I personally don't think that antidepressants make any major difference to my life, because I don't feel any different when I'm on them. 

In saying this, it makes my family - my mum and my husband - feel better that I'm taking medication, but I don't think it actually changes my mood at all.

For me, I still have the very very lows and the highs - except the highs just aren't as high. It's kind of numbing - so it moderates everything. But the lows really still happen for me - the medication doesn't take this away. 

I know now that this is not the case for everybody - I also have anxiety as well as depression, along with other mental health issues they're currently investigating. 

Pretty much my first thought everyday - which is horrible - is "Oh, s**t. I made it through the night". It's not that I want to die - I don't want my children or my husband or my parents or my friends to have to go through that. It's just the pain. It's so painful living with depression. It's a pain that never goes away. For me, it doesn't take away any of that. 

My psychiatrist - a neuropsychiatrist - is currently investiagting me coming off this medication as a trial. And my psychologist, who I see every week, is going to look at the possiblity of me having ADHD. My twins were diagnosed with ADHD at fourteen and a half, and I can see all of the traits in them that I had in me at the same age. 

I think I've trialled six or seven different types of antidepressants to date - there's a whole range of different medications. But I can't say that it does anything for me right now. 

However, if a new one is on the market and my psychatrist recommends I take it, I'd be very happy to give it a go.

Are you on antidepressants? What's your experience? Share with us in the comment section below.

If you or someone you know requires assistance or support contact: 

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

Or talk to your GP or health professional.

In an emergency call 000.

Feature image: Getty; Mamamia

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