An interesting piece in today’s Guardian about giving up antidepressants and how most people “can stop without too much trouble.” That, I would imagine, is because the majority of people who use them do so on a temporary basis. For years, that was me. I’d suffer a bout of depression and the GP would prescribe various drugs that would at first leave me extremely nauseous and, sometimes, make me feel not as bad, as opposed to better. Today I could not even contemplate coming off antidepressants. I’d be terrified.
I’m not convinced that doctors know much more than the layman (and woman) as to how and why antidepressants work. It’s always been a case of, “Let’s see if this one works,” and off you go, hoping for the best and if you are like me wondering if these new pills are merely a placebo. I’ll tell you how my drugs work (or not, as the case may be).
The depression, the anxiety, the ravaged sleep patterns never go away. It is as if the drugs take me to a place where I know the black dog is very much present, I can still see and feel ‘him’ but I can function at various levels. However, it is the unexpected that knocks back the depressive. Something that comes from left field – say a bullying, abusive manager at work, the failure to achieve something that might appear to others as to be very minor, a knock back – can stop me in my tracks. Then, it’s about feeling shit, feeling hopeless, tired and above all a hopeless failure. These things are a heartbeat away, always. And that’s with the drugs.
So, who do you talk to about reducing your dose of antidepressants, to discuss coming off the drugs altogether? The answer, except it isn’t an answer, is usually family and friends. GP appointments are designed to be very short, sometimes appointments are carried out over the telephone with a doctor you’ve never previously spoken to. How on earth do you explain a lifetime of mental illness in a brief telephone call and then ask for a few tips on giving up the drugs that have kept you functioning? It’s not as if you can ask for an early appointment to see an NHS mental health practitioner. The waiting lists for therapy where I live are upwards of a year. Unless you are so ill you end up being sectioned, or are, for example, a rich television personality who can buy treatment, it is a matter of patient heal thyself. You’d never expect a cancer patient to be told they need to cure themselves so why one with clinical depression? Yet that’s the way we operate in Britain in the 21st century.
Rather than warming to the possibility of giving up on medication, I am considering the very real option of taking much more of it. I’m getting out a bit more, I’m trying to do more stuff, but there are certain things, like going out in large groups, I simply can’t face, so frightened am I of making a fool of myself or even playing my beloved golf for fear of humiliation. I am far more likely to stay in the security of my Man Cave, often wishing I was writing this kind of stuff – any kind of stuff, actually – for a living. No, not often: always.
The drugs do work, they don’t make things worse and that’s as much as I can hope for. The idea of cold turkey, in the absence of a managed reduction of antidepressants, literally terrifies me. I fear, with some justification on the basis of past experience, that I might unravel altogether. I can’t risk that.
Don’t believe for one moment that the stigma of mental illness is diminishing. The underfunded NHS does its best but it isn’t nearly enough and whilst there are plenty of positive words from everyone from employers to politicians, I think that words are all they are.
Mental health is very real and yet it is still regarded by far too many people as being something from which you should simply “snap out of and get on with it.” How I wish that was true.
I haven’t got any advice on the subject of mental health, except to say it’s best that you don’t suffer from poor mental health. It poisons everything and the only way to keep it at bay, for the vast majority of sufferers, is drugs. And once you start, it’s very hard to stop.