28 June 2017

Antidepressants

The other night I was sitting with three other blokes in a pub. If a stranger had spotted us, he or she might have thought -  "Oh, there are four typical Englishmen, having a drink and nattering away. They are chewing the fat and laughing. Four normal blokes sitting in an English pub."

But things are not always as they might at first appear. The other three men have all had mental health issues and all three have from time to time been on prescribed anti-depressants to keep themselves on an even keel. Two of them have suffered episodes that are commonly referred to as "breakdowns". Fortunately, all three are okay now but the consumption of anti-depressants is generally a secretive, untrumpeted habit. As far as I know, all three could still be on them.

I have never had a "breakdown" and in my life I have never consumed even one antidepressant pill. In that regard I guess I am lucky but that does not mean I float around on a cloud, rubbing my hands together with glee, complacently glorying in my robust mental health. I recognise that we all have our moments and mental health can be a fragile state. There but for the grace of God go any of us.

When I was working as a teacher and manager of other teachers, I gradually came to understand the extent of coping problems amongst my colleagues. Lots of them had visited their doctors about stress and depression. Many had been prescribed antidepressants. It was all hush-hush and at times it felt that I was the only one who had not succumbed to what seemed to be a plague of mental ill-health.

I don't like the idea of antidepressants. For thousands of years, human beings had to get by without them. No doubt many of our ancestors had mental health issues and could sometimes become very blue. But they didn't visit doctors for prescription drugs. They just got on with their lives, supported by friends and family and simply struggled to climb out of their despondency. Being active and simply doing things was a good way of keeping that old black dog in his kennel.

Life isn't easy. We all want to live in happiness, rising each morning with a smile and a positive outlook as we proceed through the calendar. It is what is hoped for but it is so easy to veer off the rails,  entering a lonely world of painful anxiety and self-doubt that might ultimately drive you to the doctor for those happy pills.

43 comments:

  1. Well, I hope if you ever fall down into that black chasm and are unable to climb out under your own power that you can overcome your dislike of the idea of antidepressants. They are not "happy" pills; they are coping pills. Coping pills that often must be tried by trial and error to find the one that works for any given individual. The world is a different place than it was even 100 years ago and no comparison to 1000 years ago.

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    1. Thanks for this thoughtful reflection Wilma. I think that people are still people and a hundred + years ago western folk perhaps had different things to deal with such as - where's the next meal coming from? How will we keep warm tonight? In that sense life was probably more stressful.

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  2. I very rarely pay a visit to a doctor. I've probably had one such visit in the past 12 years or so....touch wood the status quo remains.

    To walk in the shoes of another...of someone suffering anxiety, depression and similar is the only way to understand what that person is having to deal with day to day. It's no fun for them, I am sure.

    Some folk don't have a support system around them; don't have anyone to lean upon; to talk with. Some have to cope the best way that they can - alone...as they see fit for themselves.

    Ditto to Wilma's comments.

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    1. I never meant to imply that my friends' issues were unreal or contemptible. Antidepressants are clearly a crutch for so many western people these days.

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  3. I take your point here about a good day's work helping to dispel anxiety and restlessness. As with all things, it is a matter of sorting out who can be helped by work and who really needs medication. The brain is mostly unknown territory and the number of chemicals and kinds of connections within it are just beginning to be understood. The last century of accumulated exposure to plastics, antibiotics, farming chemicals and other substances--all of them getting into the air and the waterways--has to be affecting our brains along with our other organs. Perhaps this helps explain the increase in depression and the need for pills to put our brain chemicals back in balance.

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    1. You make a good point about the chemical and environmental factors that might well be impacting upon mental well-being.

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  4. Mental health issues can sneak up on you and you don't recognize it. One medication I take can cause depression. I usually recognize it and then go on without any help.

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    1. I know that none of us are immune from bouts of mental ill-health. As you imply, it can sneak up on you.

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  5. You are right to be suspicious of them, antidepressants can be a disaster but they can also be the difference between life and death.
    The research suggesting mental health is linked to gut health would imply that maybe our ancestors did better in the mental health department. Modern diets don't seem to help any part of health.

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    1. We are what we eat and perhaps also what we absorb from our environment. It is easy to see how the modern world may be impacting on mental health though I believe the lives our ancestors endured were tougher and in lots of ways more stressful.

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  6. This proves me only partly right and it happened to pop up on my facebook right after I commented

    http://returntonow.net/2016/02/24/the-caveman-cure-for-depression/

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    1. Thanks for sharing this as an extra Kylie. It feeds in helpfully to this topic and raises many interesting points about mental health in the modern world.

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  7. I think you might of just taken a simplistic view of something that is rather more complex than that YP, hence some of the answers you are beginning to get. Perhaps if you've never had mental health problems it's a subject best left to those that have. Personally, I agree with Wilma's comments and think that there's no comparison between the lives of our ancestors and the intense and complex way that we live now.

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    1. I said, "I recognise that we all have our moments and mental health can be a fragile state. There but for the grace of God go any of us". That was my way of saying that I know I am not immune. I have had my moments.

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  8. Like you, I have never had an antidepressant, simply because I am lucky enough to never have needed one. Even when Steve died completely out of the blue, I felt of course grief and sadness, but never depression. Maybe some of us simply don't have it "in them".
    As I have already mentioned in my comment to your post about the young girl's suicide, someone very close to me has a tendency towards depression and has tried to take their own life several times already, starting as early as 5 years old. This person, however, has never taken antidepressants. Maybe it would have helped. But nowadays, this person is a lot happier and knows the circle of friends and family is reliable and helpful.

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    1. I am pleased to learn that your friend has battled through those bad times and it just might be that a course of antidepressants could have eased the pain during a crisis.

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  9. You are officially a minority !!! At some stage in most peoples lives there will be episodes of mental health problems , some require medication , some benefit from talking therapies , some still need electro shock therapy , theres no pull yourself together and think positive , theres just getting up each day to carry the black dog around .

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    1. No. I don't believe I am in a minority Kate. In third world countries people don't have access to such medication. They are focused on daily survival, not black dogs. They have no other choice but to carry on.

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  10. I too think this is rather a simplistic view YP. Many people throughout the ages have suffered from depression and I don't think they have always just 'got on with it' - I think they have suffered years and often whole lifetimes of misery. I had what was termed a 'breakdown' in my late teens and had shock treatment and deep insulin therapy (this was stopped because I believe it caused death in some patients)but after about six months I was back to normal and have not had it since. Depression ia a illness like any other and it blights many peoples lives.

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    1. That sounds like an awful time you went through.

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  11. Anti-depressants have their place in the scheme of things; they are sometimes useful for helping people, on a short term basis, who have difficulty coping with a particular difficult (to them) situation.

    Maybe in the past there wasn't quite so much to worry about as there is in contemporary society, especially with the media concentration on death and disaster. However I do know from a family history that people in the past who found they simply couldn't see a way out, just killed themselves.

    Alphie

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    1. Interesting reflection Alphie. Thank you.

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  12. Unfortunately you seem to have no knowledge of Herbs master. If you did then you would know about the excellent St John's Wort which has been taken throughout the ages as antidepressant and is still in use today.

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    1. I have some knowledge of herbs your grace as I put sprigs of mint in pans of new potatoes.

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  13. I have been taking anti-depressants for a number of years, but not for depression, I might add. My daughter did not sleep through the night until she was eight years old, so my sleep patterns were all over the place and, even when she did eventually start to sleep through, I would wake anyway at about 2am and not be able to sleep any further. The antidepressant prescribed for me also has use for insomnia (and bed-wetting in children!!) It meant for the first time in about ten years I could get a decent night's sleep. Just as I was getting on an even keel and thinking about stopping them, my husband started his alcoholic phase, so I found them a useful coping mechanism for that, because a good night's sleep made me invincible. In the last year, I have been slowly weaning myself off them. I still find insomnia raises its head, so take half a tablet three times a week. As you say, we must have coped without them in the past, as we did without so many medicines like antibiotics etc, but thank goodness we have them to fall back on in times of need nowadays.

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    1. I might add that the half tablet I take does not turn me into a zombie by day and more importantly makes me fully alert and capable of driving.

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    2. Thank you for sharing your personal experience of antidepressants ADDY. So often a good night's sleep is the best way of rejuvenating the mind and if we regularly miss out on sleep we can spiral down. I wish you the best of luck in getting off the pills completely. Perhaps St John's Wort (suggested by Heron) could help during the transition.

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  14. O what a can of worms this is. I myself have never taken pills for depression, in fact I do not take pills of any kind if at all possible.
    Tom once went to the dr for a bad neck and came out with a prescription for antidepressant tablets. I think that doctors are too ready to give these to people without looking further into the cause, thus saying of course they do not have the time.
    I'm not sure stress is to blame, what could be more stressful than years of war and people coped with that without pills.
    But jenny_o has a point with all the pollution.
    Briony
    x

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    1. When I wrote this blogpost I certainly never imagined I was opening a can of worms. People appear to have strong views on the subject.

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  15. I've struggled with OCD my whole life, and once or twice I've had clinical depression. When your brain chemicals are off to an extent that you're truly suffering, there's no way on earth to just "get on with it"...believe me. I'm thankful for the antidepressant Zoloft that has kept me from having a breakdown for 17 years now. I take a very low maintenance dose.

    Mental illness (true mental illness) is a disease like any other; we wouldn't tell a cancer patient or a diabetic to just get on with life without medication.

    Also, antidepressants aren't "happy pills". You don't take one and instantly feel great, like with an illicit drug. In fact, I started taking Zoloft during a terrible, terrible time and it took WEEKS before I began to notice a slight improvement. It's not an instant happy panacea.

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    1. Thanks for your input based on hard experience Jennifer. The term "happy pill" is in common usage in England. I guess the suggestion is that anti-depressants take the edge off mental torment, smoothing the edges.

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  16. Agreeing with Wilma, you will not understand that dark spiral until you have experienced it. When we have a broken bone we do not just say "buck up" , get some sleep and go catch some food. It is broken! We are very lucky to avoid self medication (drink) and to avoid suicide, which , in the olden days was the only option. There is absolutely nothing wrong with anti- depressants for the clinically depressed as there is nothing wrong with setting a broken bone , casting it, while it heals. It is physiological , it can be mapped, and it is utterly debilitating, this depression. It is not mental illness, it is imbalance, and wants fixing. Grateful for anti depressants for saving my life that one time! It is also hereditary, I come from a long line of melancholic poets and thinkers, Abe Lincoln being one of the most well known, and though, offered a blue period , to reflect and observe the human condition from another angle, it can readily spiral until, as Wilma stated, there is no way out of the hole, without a ladder. drugs are that ladder. St. John's Wort is more of a prophylactic. I truly hope that you never ever experience clinical depression!

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    1. Both Wilma and yourself appear to have jumped to the conclusion that I have absolute scorn for antidepressants. That is not the case. All my life I have tried to avoid any kind of medication and I am simply grateful that in my journey through life I have never sought or been prescribed antidepressants. I have been through the deaths of babies, my parents, my brother and I myself nearly died because of a serious e-coli infection. I have had very dark times but antidepressants were never part of the solution for me.

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  17. I don't like the idea of antidepressants either, and like you, fortunately, I've never needed them. I suspect part of what makes modern life difficult for many people is a lack of social support networks and familial structure that served humanity well for millennia. Life nowadays, for all its luxuries, can be isolating. And not having to struggle for each mouthful of sustenance is a mixed blessing -- having that focus on survival kept us, well, focused. You know?

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    1. We are looking at this issue in a very similar manner Steve. You know? Yes I do know.

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  18. 😳just because you don't suffer from mental health problems........

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    1. I think everybody has mental health problems to some degree Terry and I am no different.

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  19. Mental health issues can sometimes creep up unannounced. The very idea of anti-depressants -although helps with the situation, can lead to further issues such as addiction. Life isn't easy indeed, but one must do everything in order to survive. Greetings!

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    1. I would worry about what taking antidepressants might lead to - dependency and a blurring of lines perhaps. It's not a road I would want to travel.

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  20. At the age of 15 (near 58 years ago) I had a major operation with several longish spells in hospital after what I now know was a life-threatening disease. When I came out of hospital for the last time I suffered from post-operative depression. I told no one because I didn't know what it was until it went away. I can remember it as if it were yesterday. I have never had a slightest hint of depression since then. However I have friends who do have clinical depression. The one huge advantage of having been there is that I understand. So I, too, have never taken an anti-depression drug but I'm very glad they are there for those who need them (and if I ever become one of those people, I will just add them to the medication for my heart and my cancer and be thankful).

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    1. I think there's a big difference between cancer and heart drugs compared with antidepressants.

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    2. I am going to weigh in again on this topic, because of your reply to Graham, YP! Anti-depressants are every bit as life-saving as cancer and heart medication. Depression can - and does - kill. The issue should only be about who should take them and who can manage without them, and that depends on the degree of depression, much like the degree of cancer or of heart disease. There are varying kinds of drugs for depression and varying strengths prescribed, but I'm sure you're aware of that.

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    3. I have read this extra comment Jenny. Thank you.

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