The feeling of being down or out of sorts isn’t uncommon. Many of us wake up on the wrong side of bed or experience events that can knock us down a peg or two – and our mood along with it. But there’s a distinct separation between feeling down and suffering from a legitimate case of depression. The former is merely part and parcel of living as a sentient being with an innate capacity to experience a wide spectrum of emotions. The latter is a serious mental health issue that requires support and treatment in various guises.
There are around 40 types of antidepressants available today. In fact, they’re one of the most prescribed drugs that are available in western countries. And nowadays, it’s almost too easy to gain a prescription. All it requires is to claim a low mood for several weeks or more, and you can walk away with from your doctor’s office with a docket for any number of SSRI’s. But are they always the answer? The case for antidepressants is a convoluted one. There is strong evidence that demonstrates quality of life improvements in many patients. But every case is different. Depression doesn’t just have one singular cause. It can be the result of biological and genetic factors, suffering from terminal illness, situational factors, grief, side effects and also due to substance and alcohol abuse.
Antidepressants are a very useful tool as part of a carefully planned therapeutic approach. But they shouldn’t be the first resort. Medications aren’t meant to be the solution. They’re short-term measure. When used in the proper setting, they allow someone who is otherwise unable to lead a functional life to continue going to work, socialise and also attend therapy sessions. They’re intended as a bridge to help people make progress in a therapeutic environment – not simply suppress symptoms.
And that’s the main consideration that needs to be taken into account before any decision is made. Is this course of treatment absolutely necessary for this person? Is it going to improve their quality of life? If the answer is no, then it would be far more beneficial to adopt a less invasive approach with the use of psychotherapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
For example, an instance where antidepressants might be a preferred option of treatment from the outset is if the cause is rooted in biological factors. If there is a mechanical problem or impairment that is at play, antidepressants might not just be preferred but required. However, in many cases – severity permitting – of situational depression, the best road to take would be a therapy first approach. When the cause of depression is one which has been brought on by mental stimulus and cognising a particular event, it can also be resolved using the same methodology.
What’s required more than anything is a person-centred approach. Each case is individual, and the pros and cons of embarking on a course of antidepressants must be weighed up beforehand. And that comes back to the question of quality of life improvements and side effects. It will do no one any good to take any form of medication that alleviates one symptom but replaces it with two more equally bad or even worse ones. Antidepressants can be a magic bullet for some, but even then, their effectiveness can have a finite lifespan. There will eventually come a point where a certain amount of acceptance and responsibility for your condition needs to be taken to make a full recovery and live a life free of the assistance of any form of medication.