The Other Side of Anti-Depressants
The Other Side of Anti-Depressants
According to a recent study, Australia is second in the world for anti-depressant prescriptions. For some people, for example when there’s a high risk of suicide, these drugs can literally be a life-saver. But in many other cases, they could be doing more harm than good.
There are different kinds of depression, and if you research them, you’ll find that the most common forms tend to be due to things like outside situations or seasonal or hormonal conditions, rather than chemical imbalances or severe chronic mental illness. If your GP or mental health provider has diagnosed you with one of these non-severe forms that are unrelated to another mental health condition, and if you’re not at a suicide risk or in other immediate danger, it’s a good idea to reconsider taking anti-depressants.
For one thing, there are the side effects. Just as there are different kinds of depression, there are different types of antidepressants - and all of them come with risks, including:
- Weight gain
- Lack of appetite
- Dry mouth
- Sleep issues - Depending on the medication, this could be insomnia, or chronic fatigue or persistent drowsiness.
- Digestive problems - Some antidepressants can cause diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and other stomach discomfort.
- Sexual issues - Like a lowered sex drive, erectile dysfunction, or difficulty or inability to reach orgasm.
In many cases, it’s possible to manage or beat depression without medication. Some of my clients want to get off antidepressants and I strongly urge them to do this under the guidance of their GP and with the approval of their psychiatrist, if they have one. It is a process that has to be managed very well. But making the change can be well worth it.
Not relying on medication means that you’re free from worrying about forgetting pills, transporting them when you travel, and refilling prescriptions. It means not being concerned about drug interactions. And it also means freedom in another way: by learning to cope with depression with a non-medical technique, you’re likely going to learn life skills that can help you face challenges and fight depressive thoughts.
Here are some non-medical ways of managing and overcoming depression:
- Therapy - Research, like this study, has revealed that therapy can be as effective as anti-depressants.
- Exercise - Physical activity, whether a brisk walk or a session at the gym, is a great way to boost your mood. Exercise releases ‘feel good’ chemicals in your brain and boosts your immune system. The results can also help boost your self-esteem.
- Setting reasonable goals - Goals can drive you forward and keep you going. But unrealistic ones can also bring you down. I recently blogged about how depression makes people feel overwhelmed and lose their perspective on where they are and where they should be. If you set goals for yourself that are unattainable, of course you’re going to fail and feel bad. Dr. Ian Cook suggests setting a small goal for yourself on a daily basis – something very simple, like washing the dishes at first. Then, progressively, if you feel ready, you can try to achieve more ambitious things…always remembering what you want, need, and where you should be.
- Spending time with others - Human connection is crucial for our mental well-being. But when you’re depressed, you often want to isolate yourself. Try to get out there and spend time with people, either friends and family, or a group that’s focussed on one of your interests.
- Dietary supplements - There is strong scientific evidence that omega-3 fatty acids and St. John’s wort have depression-fighting properties. One word of caution, though: St. John’s wort can have dangerous side effects when combined with a number of medications, including antidepressants, birth control pills, chemotherapy, and more, so check with your GP before getting started.
- Acupuncture- Studies are still being done to definitively determine if acupuncture could be a successful way to fight depression, but so far, it looks promising. So if the idea appeals to you, it could very much be worth a go.
Anti-depressants may seem like the obvious answer when it comes to fighting depression, and they can be incredibly useful in some situations. But they don’t fix the real problem, or give you skills to cope with depression on your own. Non-medical treatments give you freedom from potential side effects, and in many cases, may change your life for the better, beyond curing your depression. Talk to your GP and start exploring your options.