The treatment of depression takes many forms and there is no single cure for everyone. The treatment prescribed by a doctor will differ depending on the circumstances of the individual. Anti-depressants are often prescribed to alleviate the most severe symptoms and allow the patient to begin effective counselling. Anti-depressants are a group of drugs with the sole purpose of treating depression. They are not meant to be taken by people that are merely unhappy. Although often described as ‘happy pills,’ this is a gross distortion of what they do.
It is thought that anti-depressants can often be shared around friends, particularly Prozac. This can be dangerous and only doctors or psychiatric nurses should be prescribing this medication. For those not clinically depressed, they will have no effect on the mood but will still lead to many of the side effects. One major disadvantage of using anti-depressants is the time they take to be effective. There will likely be a two week delay before they have any influence on mood.
There has been a recent controversy in North America regarding the safety of anti-depressants. A small percentage of people can develop suicidal thoughts when prescribed certain types of medication. The drugs involved in these feelings belong to a class of anti-depressant known as SSRIs which work by using the chemical serotonin, found in the brain. Symptoms include increased aggressiveness, anxiety and insomnia; however, studies have shown that less than 5% of people suffer these effects.
While the new anti-depressants have significantly fewer side-effects than older types, such as tricyclic or MAOIs, all of the medications being prescribed presently, can have side effects. As well as sudden and extreme mood swings, the effects can also include interference with sexual performance, sleep disturbance and weight gain. There is also a significant risk of serious side effects when anti-depressants are taken with other medications. This makes it vital that people go to a medical professional for help and not ‘borrow’ medication from friends.
Recent studies have shown that taking anti-depressants may have serious side effects for the minority of pregnant women. Anti-depressants taken in the first trimester are now thought to increase the chances of babies being born with heart defects. Medication taken later in a pregnancy can lead to breathing and feeding problems as well as an increased chance of seizures. However, the consequences of not taking anti-depressants through pregnancy must also be taken into consideration. Severe depression in pregnant women can increase the likelihood of alcohol abuse and eating disorders. All of these factors must be balanced when making the decision to continue taking depression medication throughout a pregnancy.
Around a third of people who take anti-depressants will experience significant withdrawals. Symptoms of withdrawal include flu-like symptoms, anxiety, dizziness and vivid dreams and nightmares. While taking anti-depressants for a period of time will help many, for most it will only temporarily alleviate symptoms of depression. It is important that the underlying causes are dealt with as well. For severe depression, not taking anti-depressants may stop people from being receptive to counselling. While simply taking the medication alone will not cure depression, employing other strategies alongside depression drugs will deliver results. Activities such as regular exercise, counselling, personal coping strategies and talking through feelings with loved ones will vastly improve the chances of beating the illness.