- Carola Kolbeck
Why I Wish I'd Taken Antidepressants Sooner
© Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri
Exploring the importance of finding the right mental health treatment tailored to your needs - this is my story of embracing medication to finally feel better.
Submitted by Carola, UK
The pandemic brought a lot of hidden and forgotten issues to life, one of them being the importance of looking after one’s mental health. As the number of people with Covid soared, as did the number suffering from poor mental health. Suddenly, maybe for the first time in society, people felt they could openly talk about their problems without feeling judged, mocked, or categorised as lunatics.
Unfortunately, as fast as we have seemed to have had access to a vaccine, as slow is the cultural and social adaptation to accepting mental health as equal to physical health. For example, admitting to taking antidepressants and undergoing therapy are still taboos for many people. What is more, seeing therapy as a positive and finding the right therapist for yourself are tricky points that individuals face who want to improve their happiness and life.
A phone call away from help
Lock-down was a dark period for me, too. I began to find myself in a constant spiral of worry, overthinking, and feeling increasingly anxious. To the outside world, on my social media profile, I looked put together and strong. Part of me carried on as if this was the opportunity of my life: I worked, carved out my writing career, and published short stories and articles. I home-schooled the kids and kept them entertained. By the third lockdown, however, I wanted to scream and cry every day. I was a jittery mess and felt angry all the time. Getting up in the morning became a chore, and I had no patience, neither with myself nor with others.
When I finally called my GP in the summer of last year, it felt like a last resort, a desperate call for someone to help me. When he asked me if I had been thinking of harming myself or taking my own life, I genuinely declined.
“I just want to stop feeling so very sad and angry all the time. I’m fed up with being miserable from the moment I get up to the time I go to bed,” I explained to him.
Although I had expected to have to ask and beg for medication to help me overcome the grey fog that had settled over my mind, my GP was understanding and prescribed the lowest dose of an antidepressant for me and suggested I get on a waiting list for counselling at the same time.
Antidepressants are like any other medication
According to the NHS, antidepressants are safe and useful to treat moderate to severe depression but should be used in conjunction with talking therapy, to ensure that the reasons for the depression are dealt with, as well as the symptoms. Whilst I had been through multiple courses of therapy and understood why I felt a darkness hugging my mind tightly, I could never see beyond it and shake it off me.
All the knowledge and self-awareness in the world could not crack the depressive cocoon to let in some much-needed light, happiness, and lust for life. I had been stumbling through my teenage and early adult years like a restless mess, desperately clinging onto anyone and anything in the hope it would make me feel better. But nothing did. Until I started taking antidepressants. It was then that I realised:
“You’d take pain killers for a headache; why wouldn't you take medication for a broken mind?”
The prejudices and reservations persist
One of the downsides of taking antidepressants is that some take time to take the desired effects, and some may not work for the individual. What is more, many people, including myself, feel ambiguous about taking medication, be it because of potential side effects or a social or personal stigma that is attached to taking medication for mental health. The decision to take antidepressants is, therefore, for many people, a difficult one. However, when viewed logically, they are a medication for the brain that is taken just like medication for physical ailments. Like other medications, they help with the healing process and give the body a chance to get better whilst making the symptoms more bearable.
"Antidepressants work by increasing levels of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and noradrenaline, are linked to mood and emotion.” (NHS, 2022).
This means that, as the brain chemistry is changed, it can lead to improvements in mood. However, it is important to note that scientifically, depression is not caused by a chemical imbalance and therefore, the exact ways how antidepressants help is unknown.
Antidepressants don’t suppress feelings - but make them more manageable for me
For a year now, I have been taking the lowest dose of what is commonly known as Prozac, and the only regret I have is that I didn’t speak to my GP sooner and work with him to find some medication that worked for me. I feel like the darkness has been lifted from my mind; I am less anxious and more confident. I still feel and acknowledge all my negative emotions: sadness, anger or disappointment. However, I can manage those feelings in a realistic and healthy way, and, most importantly, I am content, joyous, and hopeful for the future again - feelings I couldn’t find within me for a long time.
The importance of viewing mind and body as one
As with everything, individual choice and knowing yourself is paramount, as well as talking honestly with doctors and mental health specialists to find the right treatment for yourself. However, realising that mental health is equally as important as physical health and that taking medication for the former is as acceptable as taking a pill for the latter may just be the life-changing push many of us need.