When I’ve told people I’m on antidepressants, the responses I’ve gotten have often been less than positive. Whilst I’m not suggesting people should be happy I’m depressed, that does not seem to be the issue; the issue, to them, is how I am dealing with said depression.
People make rash claims that I should be afraid of how they’re affecting my brain and tell me they could never do that, because they don’t want to be an emotionless flatline. The misconception of what antidepressants really are is not only stigmatizing, but it can be extremely dangerous, as it continuously keeps those in need from taking them.
Since around mid-November last year I have been taking an antidepressant called Sertraline. Sertraline is a type of ‘Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor’, or SSRI. SSRIs can not only be used for depression but also a large number of other mental health issues as they work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin itself is not solely responsible for anybody’s depression, but chemical imbalances do play a large part in how we feel.
The NHS describes serotonin as “a neurotransmitter (a messenger chemical that carries signals between nerve cells in the brain) thought to have a good influence on mood, emotion and sleep.”
SSRI antidepressants are usually recommended over other medicines as they have lesser side effects, and they are particularly common in severe or persistent cases of depression. However, personally, I take it for PTSD, which in turn causes both depressive episodes and anxiety issues. In other words, SSRI antidepressants do not in any way or form take my emotions away. I am still sad, I am still angry, and I still get panic attacks every now and then. They are not the be all and end all, but they help more than anything I’ve ever tried before and they are often used beside therapy as a stepping stone to remission.
Many older antidepressants focus on taking away the sad, rather than enhancing the happy, and while they succeed in taking away the negative feelings, it often had the same effect on the positives; leaving the person feeling apathetic. But in reality, apathetic is just how I felt before I started taking Sertraline. I did not have any energy or desire to do anything. Life seemed hopeless and worthless. I wasn’t sad or suicidal all the time, far from it, but I was never happy. Life just floated on by while I watched from the sidelines.
So no, antidepressants haven’t made me into a zombie, they’ve brought me back to life.
Because now even when I’m sad, or I have a day so bad that I won’t leave the bed at all, I know that better times are to come, and I know that at least I have the ability to feel happy, even if I can’t be that all the time.
In perpetuating this idea that antidepressants eliminate emotions, we are actively harming sufferers of mental illness. A couple of years ago, my friend told me she did not want to live any longer, she could not bear it, but she refused to go on medication because the thought of being emotionless scared her more than the thought of dying. Today, my friend is still here and feeling good, but others have not been as lucky. If you would not hesitate taking medication for a physical injury, you should not hesitate taking it for your mind. Illness is illness no matter what part of the body it manifests in. To read more about Sertraline or SSRIs you can visit the NHS website.