5 Myths About Antidepressants I Don't Believe

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

1. “Antidepressants are ‘happy pills.’”

I have heard quite a few people call antidepressants “happy pills,” but I think this phrase is misleading. Other people who take antidepressants may refer to their medication as “happy pills,” however, I do not do this myself because I feel like this adds to the stigma of mental health issues and taking medication for your mental health. When seeing a doctor about mental health issues, the treatment option may not always be medication. In the UK, according to the NHS website, antidepressants can be used to treat depression, as well as other mental illnesses, but antidepressants are not normally the first treatment used for mild to moderate depression because it is not as effective as previously thought.

When you take antidepressants, it’s not like you swallow the medication and then your mood instantly elevates and you feel at peace. The medication does not work instantly — it can take up to two months to work and sometimes, it can take increases in medication, a combination of medications or swapping medication types in order to find the right one that works for you.

By deciding to take antidepressants, this is thought to increase the levels of neurotransmitters, like serotonin, that are thought to be linked with mood and emotion, but this isn’t fully understood yet. When you wake up and swallow your meds with a glass of water, they do not always make you feel lighthearted and cheerful. In reality, they make it a lot easier to do the things that depression previously made impossible to do, the things that many people take for granted; like having the motivation to brush your teeth, take out the garbage, pay your bills, take a shower for the first shower in three days, etc. Not doing these things may sound strange, even repulsive to some, but in reality, mental illness often has a huge impact. In fact, the World Health Organization sites depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide.

2. “Antidepressants don’t actually work.”

If someone’s depression/mental health problem is caused by a particular situation, they may not be able to change the circumstances, but antidepressants can allow the person to make positive changes to their lifestyle, like attend counseling, support groups and appointments.

Although personal benefits experienced through taking antidepressants vary from person to person, many people find antidepressants helpful in some way. The Royal College of Psychiatrists, the professional body responsible for education and training and setting and raising standards in psychiatry, has found that 50 to 65 percent of people taking an antidepressant will experience some sort of improvement, compared with 25 to 30 percent with placebo tablets. I can’t speak on behalf of everyone else who has taken antidepressants but from my personal experience so far, I can say that deciding to take antidepressants has had a significant impact so far. My life may not be perfect and I am nowhere near fully recovered, but my meds have made day-to-day life a lot easier. I no longer have daily panic attacks, suicidal thoughts and thoughts of self-harm.

3. “Choosing to take them is a sign of weakness.”

I find it saddening that we live in the 21st century and unfortunately, some people believe that people with clinical depression are just “weak” — that somehow we should just snap out of it. If it was as easy as flicking a switch or waving a magic wand, I think we would, trust me.

Deciding to reach out for any sort of mental health problem is often extremely difficult due to the stigma attached to mental health issues. If someone decides to take medication for their mental illness, please realize that this does not mean they lack willpower or that they are not strong. Finding the right medication can be a lengthy and difficult journey. I think it is important to recognize that different people prefer different treatments. Some people prefer therapy, others prefer medication and some try a combination of both.

I would say that deciding to reach out for a mental health problem is quite a brave thing to do —not only is there a stigma attached to mental illness, people with mental health issues may doubt their ability to recover. In my experience, we’re less likely to label someone with other health problems as “lazy” or “weak” for deciding to take medication to ease their pain, so it shouldn’t be any different for a mental illness either.

I would say that deciding to seek help for a mental health issue and trying to take care of yourself and strive for recovery is actually a courageous and brave thing to do.

4. “You’re always going to become addicted.”

The Royal College of Psychiatrists say that taking antidepressants does not cause an addiction. For example, the dose does not need to be increased in order to get the same effect, and people will most likely not experience cravings if they stop taking them. However, some people may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking antidepressants such as flu-like symptoms, dizziness, anxiety, vivid dreams and nightmares, to name a few.

5. “They change your personality.”

When you begin to take antidepressants, they don’t exactly change your personality, but they can lead to changes in your behavior, mood, sex drive etc. It may feel like they have changed your personality, but I think rather, the medication is just doing its job.

If you’re used to, for example, feeling very low and critical of yourself while struggling with extreme fatigue and lack of motivation, it can feel like a very alien experience to feel anything different if you’ve been experiencing mental illness for a significant length of time.

It can sometimes seem like antidepressants have changed you as a person, but I think it may be the experience of mental health issues and how this has changed your perceptions and emotions, rather than the use of this medication.

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