For me the question of whether to take medication or not was completely unknown territory.  I only had one friend that I knew of that was on any sort of medication, a treatment for bipolar disorder, and we only talked about it briefly once.  People discuss this a little more freely now so you might have a few friends or family members to talk to who have had experience with psychotropics, but still it can be intimidating and a little scary to enter that world.  When I saw a psychiatrist for the first time in college the only question I could think of to ask him was “What would happen if a normal person takes these?” I think I still had a fear that I just wasn’t dealing with my issues strongly enough.  He said “Nothing.  They’re not happy pills,” and told me it was a good question.  His response, while simple, alleviated some of my fears.  

Since antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed psychological medication and they’re the only one that I have familiarity with, I’m going to focus on those.  However, I think there are parallels to whatever medication your doctor may be wishing to prescribe for you.  Also, just to reiterate, this site was created by practitioners.  People that have been through what we’re discussing.  I always found that kind of advice and encouragement really helpful during my struggles and that is how I want to approach this article.  Of course, though, please consult your doctor.  We don’t in any way mean to replace his or her role in your recovery.  We want to supplement it.  While I’m giving disclaimers let me also say that I in no way work with any drug companies.  I’m not trying to sell you anything.  I really do just want to give you the advice that I wish I would have been able to receive.

So, maybe it would be helpful to break this question down to some basic pros and cons. One of the main cons to consider with any medication is side effects.  It’s difficult to know how your body will react to a specific medication until your on one, but it’s basically a guarantee that you will have some sort of reaction.  Extra weight gain was my chief complaint during my time on antidepressants. Decreased labido seems to be a common one as well.  Many people, in consultation with their doctors, end up trying a couple of medications before settling on the one with the least amount of secondary issues.

Also, antidepressants are a commitment.  It’s not something that you can just take for a week and stop.  I went through two rounds of antidepressants because I didn’t stay on long enough the first time or taper off appropriately.  I was originally on an antidepressant for about a year, and I started feeling much better about three months in.  So after 9 extra months of taking them while feeling pretty well, I pronounced myself cured and cut them off cold turkey.  This was a mistake and about six months later I was feeling terrible again and had to go through the added difficulty of backtracking and admitting to loved ones, who had all celebrated my recovery, that I hadn’t actually recovered.  I was placed back on antidepressants for another 9 months or so, but this time I tapered off slowly with the help of my doctor.  

There is of course a financial consideration as well.  Doctor’s visits and medication aren’t free, and good insurance is hard to come by.  My family lives on a tight budget, and if I was having to make the decision right now I’m sure finances would be a powerful reason for me to talk myself out of seeing a doctor.  It might even make me feel more guilty for needing them in the first place.  If I had the means and ability to do a research study, though, I’m pretty sure that actually being depressed is much more expensive than antidepressants.  You’ll likely be at the doctor more often for physical ailments, miss more work, and spend more money on things that help you cope with life while depressed like more childcare, fast food, and maybe drugs or alcohol.  That doesn’t even take into account the emotional cost of missing out on your life.

So besides probably saving you money and more importantly time, you only live once after all, the main benefit to taking an antidepressant is its ability to help you face the problem.  I know for me, when I was at my worst, there was no amount of advice that would have helped me.  I just could not slow my brain down to receive the advice or focus it to actually implement any of the wisdom.  The antidepressant helped manage my sadness and anxiety, but even more importantly it allowed my brain to slow down so that I could start facing the roots of my issues.

It’s a tough decision for sure.  Maybe antidepressants are being overprescribed on a general scale, I’m not sure, but no one that I talk to actually wants to be on meds.  I actually see the opposite issue.  I see people suffering for longer than they should and causing more difficulty for loved ones then maybe is necessary.  Most people that come to me are in a bad spot and I generally counsel them to see their doctor about medication. The caveat being that you take them with the goal of coming off of them once you’re strengthened and well on the road to recovery with the sources of your depression figured out.  They’re not meant to be the cure in themselves, except for in extreme cases.  In my own life, I don’t think I would have been able to come out of my depression from the point I was at without medication, so maybe that skews my opinion. I would just hate for people to take unnecessary risks by avoiding medical help due to stigmas or pride.

Of course you don’t want to take medication and deal with those side affects if it’s not necessary.  So the question is when should you take medication.  You can find an excellent guide here.  I would only add that if you have the sense that your spiralling or have any suicidal thoughts, you’re overdue for a discussion with your physician.  Your life is too valuable.  If you’re feeling depressed but you feel like you’re catching it early and that things aren’t too bad, then first try strengthening your fundamentals and adding more of the pillars to your life.  That may be enough for you.  Again, it’s not that I have stock in antidepressants and want everyone to be on them.  I just want you to receive the help that you need and am trying to remove some of the stigma around taking meds.  It’s not a weakness.  Try to take a sober account of your situation with advice from loved ones and your doctor and see where that leads you.   

There are risks to antidepressant medication, but the risks of untreated depression are worse.     John Bailey