Starting the debate: antidepressants or dandelions
Posted Saturday 13 October 2012
Has mental health become over-medicalised? Are we driven down paths to treatment more by busy doctors and powerful pharmaceutical companies than by individual need? These are difficult questions that I have struggled with as I bring a mental health book to publication, and a recent survey by Mind has highlighted the importance of being open and frank about how we, unique as each of us is, take responsibility for our health needs.
I am a writer and researcher, experiencing depression and anxiety for much of my adult life, managing symptoms with antidepressants. Talking therapies offered to me on the NHS were ineffectual and short-term. I paid for CBT, which had little effect and am now in long-term counselling. At last I am coming to terms with why I respond in particular ways to particular circumstances and it is helping.
I was made redundant two years ago and since then have at last been able to pursue my first love – writing. My blog gave birth to a book – an anthology of prose and poetry expressing the real-life experiences of more than twenty people who live with mental illness. Dandelions and Bad Hair Days: Untangling lives affected by depression and anxiety aims to raise awareness and beat the stigma attached to mental health and raise money for charity.
I started a debate on the book’s website in a post entitled Mental Health: where do we draw the line, the responses to which struck me in light of some of the statistics produced in the survey.
The survey indicates that those like me, who have been taking anti-depressants for more than two years, feel they are less well-informed and are less likely to have been offered talking therapies than those first diagnosed within the last two years.
We are regularly told that antidepressants are not addictive but we have to be honest with ourselves; I know I am addicted to these drugs not because of their chemical ingredients but because I am afraid of what will happen if I stop taking them.
A significant number of people completing the survey are no longer reviewed by their GP so like me, many may be taking them for years without considering alternatives.
Responses to my piece on the website came from therapists and lay readers, many of whom felt antidepressants are not readily promoted by the NHS. The pressure from drugs companies is debated but I would be the first to say that there ARE benefits for many from antidepressants, myself included. But experiencing depression is NOT like having a broken leg which, for most, is a similar experience that can be cured with a plaster cast. Mental health issues are quite different, however helpful campaigns are at using the physical illness or injury analogy to reduce stigma.
No one experience described within Dandelions is the same as another, no one treatment more or less successful. Medication suits some, talking therapies others. CBT is not the cure-all that many NHS professionals rely upon and a combination of therapies is often most beneficial. For some, finding a way to manage their own symptoms with the support of alternative therapies has been liberating but that is not something the medical profession are always comfortable with. Others – and I am becoming someone who can appreciate the importance of this – find the only way to make a lasting change is to examine their most difficult experiences with the help of a counsellor and take steps to alter entrenched patterns of behaviour.
The author of the title piece in Dandelions and Bad Hair Days, writer Vivienne Tufnell, compared dandelions to those issues we must face in order to deal with our depression and antidepressants to weed-killers. It might be possible to stop addressing these ‘weeds’ with chemicals and start accepting them for what they are – issues that can be addressed by other, more holistic methods that treat us as individuals. It is hard at the moment to see health professionals accepting this but it might be time to change the analogies…
Suzie Grogan is a freelance writer and researcher based in Somerset.
After many years in the public and voluntary sectors she now writes on
health, social history and poetry. Having been published in a variety of
local and national magazines she is now working on two books -
Dandelions and Bad Hair Days; Untangling lives lived with depression and anxiety (launched on 10 October) and Shell Shocked Britain which will look at the legacy of the First World War on mental health in the 20th
Did you take our survey over the summer? Read through the results.
Find out more about antidepressants, how they work and their side effects. If you, or someone you know, is thinking about coming off, read about how you can come off these drugs successfully and the difference between relapse and withdrawal.
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