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Do I Need An Antidepressant?

Depression is often treated with antidepressants.

Not always, but typically.

These are drugs taken on a regular basis in dosages as prescribed by a professional, and they’re useful in general to suppress depressive symptoms, including in cases of drug rehab and related medical necessities.

But as I said, not everyone needs an antidepressant. And while they’re often prescribed, it’s a good idea to ask yourself whether or not you should be taking one.

What Antidepressants Do

Antidepressants come in a variety of formulas and brands, and different drugs work for different people.

Doctors may prescribe you medical several times before you find the meds that really do the trick – and it can take upwards of two weeks before you really see changes in your neurochemistry.

Most, if not all prescribed antidepressants nowadays are SSRIs.

These are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and what they’re meant to do is prevent your brain from absorbing excessive amounts of serotonin when it’s released. Typically, when serotonin (one of the neurotransmitters responsible for motivation and mood stabilization) is transmitted, the brain has the capacity to stop serotonin in its tracks and absorb it back into the nerve cells of the brain.

In most people, this is normal and has no adverse effects. The brain releases serotonin, it does its job, it goes back into the nerves. But in people with cases of depression, using drugs to block the reuptake or absorption of serotonin for a while seems to reduce the symptoms of the disorder. The theory is that by letting the neurotransmitter linger, the brain’s cells better communicate with one another, specifically the parts of the brain that regulate your mood.

Common SSRIs include Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, Paxil and Lexapro. These are brand names for different formulas, composed of one or several drugs that do the same thing but with different possible reactions. You may react to some more adversely than to others – and side effects include a dry mouth, nausea, headaches, dizziness, insomnia and more. Not exactly pleasant – but ideally, encountering these side effects should be a mild experience, and relatively rare.

Not all forms of depression are based on neurochemistry, and not all people react to the use of SSRIs. And even though we know what these drugs do, we don’t really know why they help. It’s important to clarify that. Depression is often called a disorder based mostly in neurochemistry, but that’s not really true. Like I said, depression is highly unique and comes with many different possible reasons and affecting factors, and your brain not working the way most people’s brains do might not be one of them.

SSRIs are not the only form of antidepressants prescribed, although most of the others are similar. While serotonin is one neurotransmitter we focus on, there are drugs that focus on others – just in case your brain reacts better to them. These are:

  • SNRIs, or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
  • NDRIs, or norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors

Other drugs don’t focus solely on neurotransmitter reuptake, and instead also work to block neurotransmitters from “docking” to undesired receptors, which increases the number of neurotransmitters in the brain as a side effect.

Now, while these are all drugs not available over the counter, they are not physically addictive. That being said, your mind can form a reliance – an over-reliance, even – on antidepressants, and you can develop withdrawal-like symptoms of irritability if taken off them. The idea is that it’s important that both you and your doctor are responsible for these drugs – they should not be overprescribed, and the goal is to get to a point where they are no longer prescribed to you at all. Antidepressants can help, and if they do, that’s great: but they cannot be a long-term solution.

There Are Alternatives

If antidepressants don’t work for you, or if you just don’t need them, there are plenty of other ways to treat depression. The general idea is that treatment can be found on two fronts – the kind that boosts your mental defenses against negative thinking, and the kind that actively boosts your dopamine levels and just makes you physically happier.

On one front, you can engage in positive psychology to ward off depression. Group therapy among friends or other patients, different forms of self-therapy like doing creative work and meditating – these are all methods that boost your focus and build your confidence, so you can firmly avoid worrying, uncertainty and crushing doubt.

Positive coping methods and good habits like better eating, regular exercise (of any level), and regular friendly get-togethers can be great ways to release the body’s natural happiness drug, dopamine. All of these activities also boost your body image and self-esteem – but they can take a little discipline and a lot of motivation to really get going.

Because of those two things – discipline and motivation – antidepressants are a good springboard for bigger treatment. By warding off your depression with drugs, you can create the room you need to focus on other means of treatment. If antidepressants are unavailable or if you don’t want to use them, then you’ll have to rely on the help and support of others to get you into the rhythm of actually doing things again.

Treatment for depression isn’t just a matter of fighting off a disorder – it can be incredibly rehabilitating for awkward relationships and it can generally improve the mental and physical health of everyone working to help you out. Regardless of whether you’re struggling mentally or not, things, like meditating and attending group therapy, are always good for the psyche.

On the Topic of Depression

While we’re on the topic of depression and antidepressants, it’s worth mentioning that – as I’ve said in the past – depression is a unique experience. For some, it’s a short-term disorder, gone in a few months. For others, it’s chronic and reoccurring, or a constant factor in their life over years. Some people experience symptoms of depression after a loved one has passed or after losing something significant, but it doesn’t develop into a disorder. And for others, depression is something they can’t seem to get rid of, and instead, have to live around.

There’s no clear-cut way of figuring out what kind of depression you have. You can go to a professional therapist, take a test, and let them determine how severe your depression is or whether you even have a disorder, to begin with. But they can’t tell you if one day you might wake up and begin to feel better.

So yes, depression can go away with time. But, also yes, there’s no guarantee that it will. It’s important to do what you can to fight the depression while you’re struggling with it, rather than let it pass over. Depression is something that thrives on giving up, it thrives on inaction and biding. Don’t let it blanket your life like that.

Think of it with cold, hard logic – depression is state of mind that feeds off uncertainty and doubt, so work to eliminate those. You know you can’t count on magically getting better, so all you can do is work hard to get better. You know there’s no guarantee that your treatments will work, so instead of relying on hope, instead rely on the numbers – the treatments that we’ve come up with for patients struggling with depression over the past few decades are never a guaranteed cure, but they can and usually do alleviate symptoms.

Meaning, even if you won’t be rid of the negative thinking, you can tone it down, drown it out, overpower it, be larger than it. You can use a combination of medication and positive thinking to keep sticking to a productive schedule, keeping yourself busy, happy, motivated and surrounded by people who want to live life to its fullest.

Other People Matter A Lot

I’ve mentioned a lot of different ways to treat depression mostly on your own, or with the help of a professional, but I haven’t touched upon what might be one of the most important factors of treating yourself, with and without medication: the psychosocial factor.

Your relationship towards others is, in many ways, a direct result of your relationship with yourself. And the way you interact with others also affects how you see yourself. When you’re put down by depression, hanging around other people can be a chore. Relationships can be hard to maintain. “Having fun” might not be fun anymore.

At the same time, you’ll probably feel guilty about all that. That guilt will only drive you to feel worse about yourself and further, diminish your relationships. And with less and fewer people to talk to, things can quickly go downhill.

It’s important to have one or two people who will stand by you no matter what, and support you as you improve. But it’s also important to challenge yourself to the conversation. If your depression is coupled with anxiety, this can be extremely difficult. Every single encounter with a person you don’t completely trust will most likely involve severe self-doubt and the nagging paranoia that they don’t approve of you in some way.

It’s hard to let that go. But the only way to do so is to keep trying. As you get better, talking to others and opening up to others will get easier – and with time, you’ll suppress your worries and focus on the reality: these people are your friends, companions, and interesting strangers whose perspectives, experiences and time can help you grow as a person.

Doing this is a huge confidence booster. Even for people without anxiety or depression, the idea of actively trying to talk to strangers or make new friends can be really daunting. We come up with a million reasons not to bother people – and it all starts with thinking exactly that, that we’re a bother. Once every ten times, that’ll probably be true – the world has a lot of unpleasant people in it. But most of the time, people would be happy to accompany a conversation with a stranger. Pick out the person next to you in the bus, or in line at the mall, or anyplace else where boredom tends to strike, and just talk.

As we grow older, it’s easy to become cynical about the world and people especially. But by just opening up a little and spending more time amongst strangers, you’ll begin to see that people are endlessly interesting. Millions of stories and anecdotes and incredible experiences. And every now and again, you’ll stumble upon an amazing storyteller with a talent for weaving the kind of anecdote that’ll have you laughing, gasping, and genuinely in suspense.

Don’t Rely on the Internet

Blogs are great. They’re informative. You’ll learn a lot, gain new perspectives, find innovative ways to tackle personal problems. But they’re also supplementary. Very rarely, you’ll find an expert blogger or online authority figure who will take the time to look at your case specifically, and give you the personalized advice you need for your factors, circumstances, and obstacles.

If you’re suffering from depressive symptoms, first, you need to get a proper diagnosis. Go to the nearest mental health provider or therapist, and ask around to see what options you have for finding out how serious your symptoms are. Depending on your healthcare, you may even be able to deduct most of the costs from that initial diagnosis.

From there, be sure to heed professional advice, especially advice that’s based on your diagnosis and your case. I’ve mentioned earlier that depression is different for everybody, and it really does help to get someone who knows a thing or two about neuroscience and psychiatry to make an informed opinion of how best to help you.
And be wary of simple solutions. Depression isn’t simple, it’s messy. And what might’ve worked wonders for someone else won’t automatically be your solution. Do try everything you can reasonably try. As I mentioned earlier, there are many ways to treat depression with and without medication, and without requiring deep pockets. All you need to do is try.