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Why Are We So Reluctant To Go On Anti-Depressants?

10/03/2017 16:30
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I never wanted to go on anti-depressants. They were a last resort for when I was so disconnected to the world, from anything but this numbing sadness, that I would have done anything to feel more myself. And they worked; minimal side effects, and within six months I was singing, smiling and fidgeting much like my usual self.

So I came off them. And then slowly, slowly, I declined. Away from the 'me' I identify with. After a while, I admitted I should probably go back on them. Worth a try though eh?

This time round, I decided to get counselling. Sort the issue at hand, whatever it is that's pissing around with my mind. Which is how I ended up answering the question, "Why are you here?" in my first ever counselling session.

There are dozens of different answers I could have given, but I went for this one: "I want to be normal without anti-depressants."

And so began a discussion about why I didn't want to be on anti-depressants. Rumours that they eat your brain and turn you into a thoughtless mute. The thought of my mind being controlled by something that wasn't me. Side effects that I hadn't experienced. But really, it all boiled down to one thing.

Being on anti-depressants is a sign of weakness. You can be a bit questionable, mentally, but not be mentally ill, unless you are on treatment for it. It's all fun and games and memes until there is a diagnosis and treatment. You can't brush off depression as having a bad day if you need pills to take it away.

My counsellor (let's call her Jane) asked me this: "If you were anaemic and your doctor prescribed you iron tablets, would you take them?

Yes, of course, I duly answered, mentally rolling my eyes.

She went on to explain. "When your body is deficient in iron, you take the treatment, and eventually your body re-stabilises. If you cut treatment too early, you go back to the symptoms you had before. It's the same with anti-depressants. If you have depleted your brain of the chemicals and neurotransmitters you need to not be depressed, it will take a while for your body to get back to balance. There is no weakness in that, it's simple chemistry."

Jane is right. Medically, mental health is no different to physical health. Of course, there can be non-medical treatments - talking therapy is great for understanding why you feel a certain way, and CBT can help to tackle maladaptive thoughts and behaviours. But again, no different to the non-invasive treatments that work for physical health. Diabetes? Sort your diet out. Headache? Drink more water. Management and lifestyle change can usually help towards fixing your body, but sometimes you need a little medical intervention. That doesn't mean you are weak.

Thing is, I knew this. I never have, and never will, judge people for getting help with their mental health. I know mental illness doesn't discriminate; age, race, salary, gender - no one is protected. I know some people need medical treatment, as therapy isn't enough.

I know this but it feels like the same rules don't apply for me. I'm not really ill. Not enough to deserve treatment, anyway. If I try really hard, I'll be okay. And if I'm not, I can just pretend and no one will know any different.

But that's not the case, and it's sad because I know I'm not alone in feeling this way.
Society favours the strong, and even though it's becoming less taboo, mental health is still seen differently to physical health. It's okay for others to get help, but not ourselves. There is this weird cognitive dissonance where we accept that treatment is okay for others, but not for us. How does that even work?

Going on anti-depressants was the first real act of mental self-care I've taken in a long time, and it took me a relapse to realise that I am not a lesser version of myself because I take anti-depressants. I am taking anti-depressants to become the version of myself I know I can be.

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