The Truth About Antidepressants

There are many misperceptions about mental illness and its treatment that contribute to stigma. People may incorrectly assume that the feelings that accompany anxiety anddepressive disorders can be willed away with the right amount of discipline, or that seeking help for them is a sign of weakness. It’s important to understand that these emotional disorders are not “normal” feelings. This fact is often misunderstood, which can also lead to misunderstandings about the use of medication.

Misinformation about the role that antidepressants or medication play in the treatment of mental illness can deter people with depression or anxiety from using what may be one of their best options for recovery. The term “antidepressant” is somewhat misleading, in that these medications could easily be called anti-anxiety medications and are used to treat many other conditions. Combined treatment, which involves drug therapy, psychotherapy and lifestyle change, has proved most effective in treating depression and anxiety and in lowering relapse rates.

Myth Truth
Antidepressants make you falsely happy. Antidepressants work gradually to normalize emotions.
Antidepressants keep you from feeling any emotions. The purpose of antidepressants is to get back to a fully functional work and personal life.
People should be able to deal with their depression and anxiety disorders naturally. Some people need help to regulate emotional problems, just like some people need inhalers to regulate their breathing or insulin to regulate blood sugar.
You’ll need to take medication for the rest of your life. Doctors try to be as conservative as possible when prescribing medication, recommending the smallest effective dose only for as long as is necessary.

Antidepressants Are Not “Happy Pills”

The purpose of antidepressants is to help a patient’s mood to return to a normal state, not to alter it. Antidepressants do not make you high or work quickly – they work over an extended period of time. These medications are not sedatives, “uppers” or tranquilizers. They are not habit-forming. Generally antidepressant medications have no stimulating effect on people not experiencing depression or anxiety. Most people start to feel better two to four weeks after starting treatment. Full benefits may not be felt for two to three months, or even longer in some patients.

The purpose of antidepressants is not to “make you happy,” nor are they intended to keep you from feeling emotions. The goal of medication and combined treatment is to help you get you back to functioning as your full self. Feeling emotionally numb is a symptom of depression, a symptom that the use of antidepressants is intended to help correct. If the medication is working correctly, a patient with a depressive or anxiety disorder should be able to experience typical levels of joy, sadness, stress and the full range of emotions.

There Is No Shame in Seeking Help

Mental illnesses are illnesses like any physical ailment – they often require combined treatment to improve. Sometimes treatment involves psychotherapy, sometimes it involves medication, and it requires both – along with lifestyle changes – to be most effective. If a person requires medication to manage a mood or anxiety disorder, it is important they do so, just as it is important for a person with asthma to use an inhaler or a person with diabetes to use insulin.

As with any medication, there can be side effects when using antidepressants. Some adverse effects, like sexual dysfunction, can be difficult to talk about, but it’s important to talk with your doctor and treatment team about how you’re reacting to your medication. Doctors weigh many factors in choosing an antidepressant, such as the person’s medical status, prior bouts of depression, prior responses to antidepressants and the presence of symptoms. There is a wide variety of treatment options for depression and anxiety, including a range of medications, and the right balance of medication, psychotherapy and lifestyle changes can differ from person to person.

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