Friday, 11 August 2017

Making Sense Of Antidepressants

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Heads up, I'm not a medical professional, but I am quite experienced with antidepressants both as someone who takes them and has done for over a year as well as being a psychology student who knows the science behind them.

Making sense of antidepressants can be one difficult task. There is one hell of a lot of medical jargon online, making the experience of understanding antidepressants and deciding whether you want to go on them or not, that little bit harder.

So being the kind person that I am, I thought it would be helpful if I condensed everything down I've found online, into one simple, easy to follow guide. You can thank me later. It's going to be a long one so let's get amongst it. 


So what really are antidepressants?

Okay, so in layman's terms, they are a psychiatric drug, which is available on prescription. They are used to treat depression although some can also treat anxiety, panic attacks and bulimia.

But how do they actually work? 

In your brain, you have these things called neurotransmitters which are responsible for passing messages between nerve cells in your brain and other areas of your body. These neurotransmitters have names, for example, Serotonin. Serotonin is a feel good hormone, which helps regulate your mood. Antidepressants try and increase or prolong the activity of Serotonin.

Is there only one type of antidepressant? 

Nope! It can get quite complicated, there are basically different groups of antidepressants all of which have the same purpose, they just were developed at different times and can have different side effects. The main group is SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) which work by stoping the re-uptake of the neurotransmitter making activity in the brain prolonged. 

There's also SNRIs (Serotonin and Noradrenaline re-uptake inhibitors) Noradrenaline is just another type of neurotransmitter. These are a newer type of antidepressant used more for severe depression and anxiety. 

Then there's tricyclics which are the oldest type of antidepressant developed in the 1950s. These focus on prolonging Noradrenaline and Serotonin but usually have more side effects. 

Finally, we've got your MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) There is an enzyme in your brain called monoamine oxidase. By taking a MAOI, it makes it harder to break down Noradrenaline and Serotonin this means they stay more active for longer. There can be dangerous reactions with some foods, this you have to follow a careful diet when on this medication. They are usually used as a last resort when all other methods failed 

Will taking antidepressants help me?

There really is no way to tell. Some antidepressants help some people more than they do others. We are all different at the end of the day. 

Doctors sometimes may decide not to put you on antidepressants if your depression is mild to moderate because research suggests they work better the more severe the depression is. However, I know from experience that it's easier for a doctor to hand you a prescription for pills then it is to tell you there is a year's waiting list for CBT. 

If you suffer from depression, you may have a persistent low mood and not enjoy doing the things you once did amongst other physical and emotional symptoms. These symptoms will normally have a direct impact on your daily life interfering with school, work or family life. Antidepressants will take the edge of things making it more bearable for you. 

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Do the side effects outweigh the benefits? 

There is no way to tell if someone is going to experience side effects or not. And if they do experience them, you won't know how serious it will be. All the different types of antidepressants have different side effects. Here is just a few; mania, suicidal thoughts, sexual problems, diabetes, decreased alertness and Serotonin syndrome. Antidepressants can cause side effects nearly all medications can e.g. Headaches, nausea, dizziness, etc. For some, they can make the depression worse. 

Do I need to take extra precautions when taking antidepressants? 

If they are making you less alert, you shouldn't drive or operate machinery. 

If you take antidepressants with Serotonin in, you shouldn't take them at the same time as grapefruit products, as they also contain Serotonin which leads to too much Serotonin also known as Serotonin syndrome. The symptoms of this are; headaches, nausea, tremors, convulsions or hallucinations. It can be a serious fatal condition if not taken seriously. 

Although more associated with antipsychotics, the neuroleptic malignant syndrome can occur when taking antidepressants, although this is rare. Symptoms include; changes in levels of consciousness, fast heart beat, sweating and stiffness. 

Am I at greater risk of taking my own life? 

There have been studies to show antidepressants increase the risk of suicidal feelings. Some believe that antidepressants can give people the energy to act on suicidal thoughts before the medication works.

It is incredibly important to ring Samaritans 116 123 or go to your local A&E if you feel unsafe or at risk. 

How long will I be on antidepressants for? 

This is largely dependent on you and your circumstances. Some people aren't on them long at all. Others, spend most of their life on them. This is all very individualistic. 

What are the withdrawal symptoms? 

If you want to come off antidepressants, you must go to a doctor and talk about it first. Trust me, suddenly stopping is not a good idea. You may experience flu like symptoms, mania or could make your depression worse. Your doctor will be able to work with you to come up a safe plan to reduce unpleasant side effects and ensure you stay safe. 

Thanks for giving this guide a read. If you've just been put on antidepressants I promise it's not the end of the world, you will get through. If you've been on them for years, I want to remind you just how strong you are and how well you are doing. 

Hope you found this useful! 

Thanks for reading, as always X

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10 comments

  1. As someone who's taken anti-depressants for a while, this is SO insightful and I wish I'd been able to read it before I went on them to know a little bit more about what to expect. You've totally nailed this post, as always!

    Steph - www.nourishmeblog.co.uk

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  2. I'm currently on this medication and I always worry about coming off them and feeling as bad as I did before. They are really helpful but can be difficult. Thanks for this helpful post x

    Alice // The Rose Glow

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    1. No worry lovely, glad the post helped you x

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  3. My little sister was on them, and when she went to uni, there was a couple months' waiting list just to get into the doctors to get more of her prescription, so she had to just stop suddenly when they ran out. What happened? Well, she ended up spending the night in hospital with severe heart palpitations.

    This is a really great post, and I love how you're not only open about your own challenges, but also helpful to ours.

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    1. That is so awful! I'm sorry to hear that

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  4. I've been taking fluoxetine for just over a year now, and I'm still undecided as to whether they've helped me with my anxiety/low mood or not, but I'm considering coming off them to find that answer! Such a helpful, and informative post Nicole - thank you!

    Lucy | Forever September

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    1. If you ever want to chat about it, I'm here to listen! Thanks lovely x

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  5. I NEVER knew that was the reason you couldn't have grapefruit! They say you learn something new everyday :P I think it's so important to raise awareness of medication, especially after that awful Panorama programme the other week :(

    My medication helps to ground my anxiety- especially the physical symptoms of anxiety- which is needed to keep my on track with ED recovery in the community. Without it i don't know how i would cope! It's also important ti know you CAN try others, if the first doesn't work, I'm on my 3rd type of medication (this time an SNRI) and don't know what the future will hold, but i can only go by what works for ME in the PRESENT. Thank you for this xx

    Bumble and Be

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  6. Absolutely insightful and brilliant guide. ❤️ You've helped me out a lot. Making this whole thing easier to understand makes the choice a little easier in my head. Thank you. Xx

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