In My Story, I described my lifelong struggle with depression and anxiety and how I suffered for many years before I was willing to go to therapy. It took even longer before I was willing to try antidepressants. And even though the meds helped tremendously, I still went on and off of them for many years because I didn’t like it that I needed them to feel “normal.”
In my work with students, it is very rare that a client enters therapy wanting to take an antidepressant. In helping them decide whether or not to try meds, I tell them to ask me whatever they want about antidepressants. In this Q & A, there several myths that come up repeatedly. So I thought it might be helpful to dispel these myths so that you can form your opinion about antidepressants with accurate information.
Myth #1: Meds are for people who want a quick fix.
Fact: I have rarely, if ever, met a client who wanted to bypass therapy and start with antidepressants. Sometimes they will meet with me for several years before they are open to trying medication. I would hardly call that a quick fix.
Myth #2: I don’t want to take something that is going to artificially make me happy.
Fact: Antidepressants don’t work that way. Think of a person who is depressed or anxious (since they are used to treat both conditions) as someone who has a lowered threshold for stress. The meds help to raise the person’s threshold so that it is in the “normal” range. This means that they don’t get upset over things that used to bother them. And when they do get upset, the feelings aren’t as intense and they don’t last as long. But you still feel depressed and anxious at times.
Ironically, people who make this argument have no problem using other, more addictive drugs that do actually artificially make them happy. Like alcohol. Or marijuana. Or stimulants.
Myth #3: I don’t want to become dependent on antidepressants.
Fact: As I stated above, many people who don’t want to take antidepressants have no problem “self-medicating” with other, more addictive drugs. I would equate taking antidepressants to taking meds for high cholesterol or blood pressure. You’re not dependent on them, but you may be putting yourself at greater risk for harm without them.
Myth # 4: I don’t want the meds to change me as a person.
Fact: When you are depressed or anxious, you are not yourself. You are so focused on your pain that you don’t have the energy to do the things you would normally do. You are necessarily self-focused and therefore cannot focus on other people. You are not fully present. So if anything, antidepressants help to free up more of your energy so that you can act more like yourself.
Myth #5: I don’t want to have to be on meds for the rest of my life.
Fact: Most people don’t have to be on antidepressants for the rest of their lives. Even in my case, my psychiatrist prescribes my antidepressant as needed. Although there are a bunch of supplements that he insists I take for the rest of my life, ironically.
Myth #6: It is more noble to suffer.
Fact: When someone comes to therapy, I assume it’s because they don’t want to suffer. I tell clients that life is full of suffering that they cannot avoid. We will all experience grief, loss, sickness, and crushing disappointments in the course of our lifetime. You will not miss out on your share of suffering. So make it easier on yourself and reduce whatever suffering you can. If there’s a chance that trying an antidepressant will reduce some of your suffering, you might as well give it a shot. You can always change your mind.