Ending The Stigma on Antidepressants

Before I started taking antidepressants, I tried my best to live my life without them because I was afraid of becoming dependent on them. After years of meeting with multiple therapists and school counselors, I was finally convinced to take them. My counselor at the school I went to before I transferred to UMass told me it would be a good idea to try them, and with her help I contacted my doctor’s office to set up an appointment to discuss it.

My doctor started me on a small dosage of Lexapro and I felt the side effects immediately the next day. I was constantly tired, nauseous, and lost majority of my appetite. My counselor and doctor warned me about the side effects, but encouraged me to push through them because eventually my body would adjust. Within a few weeks, I felt different. I was calmer, my anxiety decreased significantly, and my normal appetite came back. Most importantly, I was living my life again. It no longer felt like a chore to get out of bed. I was participating more in my classes. My friends and family noticed a difference in how I acted within a month, for the better. I felt normal again, but it took me a long time to open up about it.

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Unfortunately, there are stigmas against antidepressants. For people who don’t understand mental health, they think people are “weak” for relying on a medication to be “normal.” There is also a fear to begin taking antidepressants because we are conditioned to think we cannot “medicate the pain away.” Prior to taking Lexapro, I was terrified I wouldn’t be the same person again. I was scared I would turn into a zombie who wouldn’t be able to feel any emotion. And in some cases, yes – that’s what it can do to you.

Antidepressants affect everyone differently. Often times, it’s a trial-and-error process to find one that works for you. Although Lexapro worked for me at first, I had to constantly adjust my dosage depending on what time of the year it was – it went up in the winter and down in the summer. When I transferred to UMass, I had a difficult time adjusting to being at a new school and far away from home. I began meeting with a counselor and psychiatrist at UMass’ Center for Counseling and Psychiatric Health who both agreed I should try a different medication. I began taking Wellbutrin on top of my Lexapro, and my condition worsened. I became aggressive and my depression was the worst it had ever been before. I wasn’t acting like myself, causing my friends and family to consistently ask “are you taking your meds?” From that moment on, I knew I had to get off this medication.

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My psychiatrist changed my prescription to Zoloft. I started to feel better within a couple weeks, but going through the process of switching my medication once again took a toll on me. I was still aggressive to the people around me, I would get random head rushes that made me dizzy, and my suicidal tendencies continued to persist. But after slow increases to my dosage– I felt normal again.

Going on antidepressants is not easy, but if you find the right one the works for you, it truly makes all the difference. It’s like taking any other medication for a physical illness– they help you heal and get better. But they are not some “magic pills” that make you feel euphoric 24/7. They don’t necessarily make you happy, they simply help you function to the best of your ability.

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I think one of the most important things to know about antidepressants is that there is no requirement to go on them. You don’t have to have severe depression to ask your doctor for a prescription. Depression is not a competition. Just because there are people who may be dealing with factors in their life worse than yours does not mean your problems don’t matter. You have to trust your instincts and do what feels right to you.

There is nothing wrong with being on antidepressants for a long time. I’m currently on my third year and I do not have any intent on trying to come off them any time soon. They help me function and be the best version of myself. I found the medication that works for me and I have no desire to try to live without it– for now.

The most important thing to remember about taking antidepressants is that they do not make you weak. Reaching out for help and opening up about your mental health can be terrifying and takes bravery. Putting yourself and your health first is one of the strongest things you can do, and it is not something you should ever be ashamed of.

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