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6 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Antidepressants

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I can’t remember the first time I experienced unhappiness. I also can’t remember the first time I experienced depression. These two very different feelings affect people’s lives in very different ways. However, I can tell you when I decided to ask my doctor about medication for depression. As someone living with depression, there are so many things about antidepressants I didn’t know when I started taking them.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. “Happy pills” are not real.

Antidepressants are real and sometimes they are lifelong medications. They work in a number of different ways within the body to prolong the activity of neurotransmitters (the little chemicals that allow us to experience a crazy amount of different emotions).

2. There isn’t one medication that works for everybody.

For some, medication that acts on serotonin works well. Some may need medication that acts on norepinephrine. Others might need a medication to act on dopamine. In fact, some people require multiple medications because their problem is not only one chemical.

3. Even on medication, depressive episodes happen.

Are my major depressive disorder episodes less exhausting than before I began medication? I believe they are, which makes medication worth it for me. However, I still have to be prepared for times when I get hit by a train of negativity, apathy and loneliness.

4. Side effects are terrible.

Nausea, digestive issues, headaches, weight gain and more. The positive side of these effects though, is they don’t usually last long. In fact, if they last more than a few weeks, the medication might not work for someone in the long run and the person should talk to their doctor about trying something else.

5. Deciding to begin medication may be just as difficult as depression itself.

People around you may question whether you need them, whether they even work and why you would want to rely on a little pill to improve your mood. There is such a stigma around the psychiatric medication millions of people are prescribed every year. Some people don’t understand there is a biological as well as environmental component to depression.

6. Only you know what your body and mind are going through with depression. 

If you have tried many other solutions without results and you want to give them a try, ask your doctor. Do some research first. You can look up safety, side effects and how often medication is usually taken. If something works for you, that’s great. If you have to try a few before you find one that works, that’s great. If you find out medication isn’t something that works for you, that’s great, too.

So to anyone who is on or is considering antidepressants as a treatment for depression, I’m proud of you. This isn’t an easy journey. The best thing we can do for ourselves is try to understand what is happening in our minds and bodies, what helps us feel better and understand these treatments are OK. Don’t let society shame you from them.

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

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Thinkstock photo via luchschen.

Originally published: February 28, 2017
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