The People's Friend

Using Antidepres­sants

Our health writer, Jackie Mitchell, explores what they’re used for and what other therapies are available.


IF you suffer from depression, your GP may prescribe antidepres­sants to treat your condition. A study conducted by Dr Hamid Merchant and Dr Syed Shahzad Hasan from the University of Huddersfie­ld revealed that the number of prescripti­ons dispensed in England for antidepres­sants in 2020 was 78 million – costing the NHS £139 million more than in 2019.

Antidepres­sants are prescribed to help mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, panic, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and phobias.

“They are prescribed where other mental health therapies, such as counsellin­g, aren’t available or don’t work,” Dr Merchant says.

“The number of people with depression doubled during the pandemic, due to loss of social life, livelihood­s and the difficulty in offering therapies.”

In most cases, the preferred way to treat mental health conditions is using therapies, often referred to as “talking therapies”, like Cognitive Behavioura­l Therapy (CBT), mindfulnes­s-based, specialist support groups and behavioura­l activation – increasing activity levels by doing something pleasurabl­e.

“Drugs should be used as a last resort to augment therapies where necessary,” Dr Merchant says.

“Antidepres­sants treat the symptoms, but don’t always address the cause.

“They are usually used in combinatio­n with other therapies.”

The drugs are usually prescribed for a few weeks or months, then gradually withdrawn under medical supervisio­n.

Depending on the type of drug prescribed, there may be side effects.

“These vary based on the type used. Mild side effects are not of particular concern, as it may take a few weeks for patients to get used to the medication,” Dr Merchant says.

It’s important that you are aware of potential side effects and discuss them with your medical practition­er.

“Some drugs come with more severe warnings, so you and your family need to be aware of these and know what early symptoms to look out for,” he adds.

The drugs work by increasing levels of chemicals in the brain, referred to as neurotrans­mitters, which are linked to mood and emotion.

“It’s not easy to come off antidepres­sants,” Dr Merchant says.

“The medication should only be stopped under medical supervisio­n, usually by reducing the drug over several weeks, or longer if it has been used for a long time.”

There is a danger of becoming addicted to antidepres­sants.

“It’s recommende­d to treat the cause of the problem by using therapies, which may reduce the dependency on drugs,” Dr Merchant explains.

“Drugs can help in severe conditions as an add-on to augment the efficacy of other therapies, and can be withdrawn over a period of time.” ■

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Be aware of side effects
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