A year ago I started antidepressants: here’s what I’ve learned

Written by Katie Heyes, 20.

Despite struggling with my mental health throughout high school and sixth form, it was only in June 2019 that I was officially diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Clinical Depression. It took everything I had to finally admit to myself at the time that I needed help.

Until last year, I had learnt to hide away my feelings from most people for fear of being some kind of hindrance to others. From past experiences of friendship fallouts, relationship meltdowns and misunderstandings within the family, I had been under the impression that the way forward was to simply “get on with it” and so had tried hiding away for fear of losing close connections to people I loved. But by doing that, what I didn’t realise is how much I was losing myself. Every day I felt drained of energy, hope, care, and a drive to go forward in life. I came to the realisation that I could no longer do it alone and thanks to the support and encouragement from my closest friends, I finally took the brave step in seeking professional advice.

It was unbearable at the time and so overwhelming I could barely muster enough energy to get out of bed

After several appointments with my GP I was prescribed Sertraline antidepressants - a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), alongside University counselling and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). The prospect of combining all of these treatments together felt very overwhelming at the time. I would continuously keep putting off the idea of starting the medication thinking that I would somehow become dependent on them for finding happiness and thus, in my mind, losing myself even more. Yet in actuality, the combination of the medication and therapy sessions proved to be for me personally as an effective treatment for a mental illness.

Over the course of a year, my mental health had seriously declined; I felt myself trapped in a continuous dangerous cycle of overthinking and routinely torturing myself with feelings of guilt and self-loathing. It was unbearable at the time and so overwhelming I could barely muster enough energy to get out of bed. Yet medication helped me to put my pessimistic attitudes into a more rational perspective, thus becoming more open-minded about other forms of help that I was given. It was a lot easier for me to open up and explain what I was going through in counselling sessions and it helped me to start gradually replacing my pessimism with more balanced ways of thinking, as taught in the CBT sessions. Medication was like a door opening inside of me which allowed me to see the outstretched hand that was there offering so much amazing support this whole time.

They can give you that necessary shift in your mindset to realise that there is a way to break free of this perpetuating pessimistic attitude. You deserve to think and feel more positively about yourself. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Once I did feel that change, all those initial side effects felt trivial in comparison

However, what I want to stress is that Sertraline or any other Antidepressant is not a “quick fix” solution to your mental health problems. It took a few weeks before I started to feel a change in my attitudes and throughout that time my sleeping patterns became very irregular – more than they were already! Consequently, this had a knock-on effect on my work ethic and had to miss weeks of University contact hours because I lacked energy and any sort of concentration. Not to mention the more unfortunate side effects like waking up with cold sweats almost every night – sorry for the TMI!

However, once I did feel that change, all those initial side effects felt trivial in comparison. It became a lot easier for me to start enjoying university life again. Whilst I still had a lot of personal struggles and trauma to overcome, they were no longer preventing me from doing things I loved like seeing my friends in between lectures, going for meals or on nights out in University. Gradually, I started to realise that these depressive thoughts don’t have to define how I continue living the rest of my life; it came to the point where many of these worries or upsetting memories I had would fade away into insignificance.

There is no right or wrong way to find treatment and you should do whatever you feel comfortable with

Another important factor to bear in mind is that medication does not work by simply eradicating the underlying causes and triggers of your mental health problems. It is not some magical cure for depression. They instead help you to start acknowledging your thoughts and addressing them from a better perspective. Deciding to take medication was my own personal choice as I felt that it was the right step for me in my recovery journey. However, each person’s recovery process is different and medication might work better for some people than others. There is no right or wrong way to find treatment and you should do whatever you feel comfortable with. If you’re unsure, speak to your GP or helplines such as Samaritans UK for more thorough information about what help is available to you.

Whatever you decide, never forgot one thing, your mental illness is not a character flaw or a burden. You’ve already taken a brave step in accepting that you need help and you should be proud of yourself for taking that step. You’ve got so much to live for and there’s always a way out.

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This contribution was written by Katie Heyes, 20. Visit her profile here to find out more about the voice behind the words.