Depression and anxiety are serious health issues that affect around three million Australians, and given the start we’ve had to 2020, is likely to be affecting even more. If you’re struggling through depression, you might be considering talking to your doctor about the issue, with antidepressants a possibility to help you though.
If you’re asking yourself “do I need antidepressants?” it’s important to understand that only a doctor can provide a concrete answer. But before you book an appointment, it’s worth getting a better understanding of the symptoms of depression, how antidepressants work, their effectiveness, and the risks involved.
Am I depressed?
Depression is a debilitating illness that severely affects a person’s quality of life. If you’re worried that you’re suffering from depression, a doctor will be able to provide a diagnosis.
Symptoms of depression include7:
- A persistent feeling of sadness
- Loss of interest in life; hopelessness
- Oversleeping, or under-sleeping
- Extreme weight gain, or weight loss
- A feeling of restlessness
- Feeling unworthy
- Difficult concentrating, or recalling information
- Regularly thinking about death, or suicide
How do antidepressants work?
Our emotions are a result of neurochemical processes in our brain, and when we take antidepressants, we’re encouraging our brain to retain greater numbers of neurochemicals, to create a more positive “balance” for us.
From a technical point of view, antidepressants work by blocking our brain’s ability to reabsorb (or “reuptake”) neurochemicals that are released from our synapses, allowing us to experience their positive effects. When selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) antidepressants are taken, the reuptake of serotonin is blocked. When noradrenaline and specific serotonergic antidepressants (NASSAs) are taken, both noradrenaline and serotonin reuptake is blocked.
Essentially, antidepressants are thought to positively affect the chemical balance of our brain, which can help to improve our mood, quality of sleep, appetite, and concentration1. By improving mood with a healthier neurochemical balance, a depressed person has a better chance of working through their crippling symptoms.
Do antidepressants work?
It’s thought that roughly 1 in 10 Australians take antidepressants,2 and while the drug has become the default choice for depression across the world, some people are skeptical about its efficacy. A study in 2008 included a meta-analysis of 35 randomised, controlled trials of antidepressants, and found “little evidence to support the prescription of antidepressant medication to any but the most severely depressed patients3.” But a couple of years ago, a different study that performed a similar analysis found antidepressants to work well4.
While antidepressants are likely to be effective for relieving symptoms of depression, they’re unable to resolve the underlying psychological issues that cause the illness. We all have our demons, and a pill will never be able to dispel them. Only regular, earnest sessions with a therapist can help to resolve these issues, which is highly recommended for anyone with a long-term history of depression.
What are the risks of taking antidepressants?
Antidepressants have a number of health risks, which must be considered before deciding to take them. These include: 5, 6
- Sexual problems, including being unable to reach orgasm
- Weight gain
- Lack of emotion
- Not feeling like themselves
- Reduced positive feelings
- Feeling as if they’re addicted
- Caring less about other people
- Feeling suicidal
- Fatigue and drowsiness
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
Do I need antidepressants?
Only your doctor can tell you whether you need antidepressants. They will base their decision on years of medical study and experience, and should be able to give you the best possible advice for your mental health.
If your doctor advises you to take antidepressants, ask them about the risks involved, as well as becoming familiar with the risks listed here.
If you decide to take antidepressants, realise that there’s nothing shameful about your decision. Depression is a crippling illness that can drastically affect your quality of life, and if antidepressants will help you get through the tough times, there’s nothing wrong with taking them. If they help you through your depression, you can talk to your doctor about slowly weaning yourself off them, to reduce the risk of dependence.
You should also be aware that antidepressants don’t work immediately, with some tablets taking weeks (or even months) to kick in. Having an open discussion with your doctor should answer all of your questions.
Depression is a serious health issue that affects millions of people across the world. If you’re struggling through depression, talking to your doctor is the first step towards recovery, and a happier, healthier you.
- Ellen Greelaw, How Antidepressants and Depression Medication Can Affect Your Life, WebMD
- Johann Hari, 2018, Nearly one in 10 Australians take antidepressants. Are there other solutions?, The Sydney Morning Herald
- Joe Pierre M.D., 2018, Do Antidepressants Work? Yes, No, and Yes Again!, Psychology Today
- Sarah Boseley, 2018, The drugs do work: antidepressants are effective, study shows, The Guardian
- Grant Hughes M.D., 2020, Long-Term Effects of Antidepressants, Very Well Mind
- Arthur Allen, Antidepressant Side Effects: Sexual Side Effects, Weight Gain and More, WebMD
- Depression: Should I Take an Antidepressant?, HealthLink BC