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Mind has called for better support for people taking antidepressants to help them cope with the impact on relationships, work and social life, as fresh analysis of the charity’s research from 2012 is published in the journal Psychiatry Research this month.
The research, based on a survey of over 1,000 people taking antidepressants, reveals that almost two-thirds (60 per cent) of people taking antidepressants feel the medication affects at least one of five key areas of their lives: their sex life; work or study; social life; close relationships; and independence.
Less than half (48 per cent) of respondents felt they had been given enough information about side effects of their medication by the health professional prescribing it to them.
Recent figures show that the NHS dispensed a record number of antidepressants last year, the majority of which are prescribed by GPs or nurses working in GP practices.
Mind is calling for better training for GPs in mental health and has also produced a guidefor people taking or thinking of taking antidepressants.
Michelle Lloyd, 32, first started experiencing mental health problems while at university and became very down, shutting herself away from people. She went to see her GP who prescribed an antidepressant, fluoxetine, but Michelle’s symptoms got worse and she started self-harming, which she had never done before.
She says: “I was prescribed antidepressants quickly and with very little extra information about side effects. It was a horrible time; I self-harmed and felt very nauseous with headaches and ended up not eating. I didn't expect to feel so bad and I got very anxious about the effects the tablets would be having on me.
“The biggest side effect was the feeling of numbness - quite quickly I went from being someone who was over-spilling with emotions to not feeling very much, and that's quite scary. It's a strange feeling and quite unnerving at first. I’ve found they make me a lot less physically intimate, something I have struggled with and felt very self-conscious about. The feeling that I am in some way not normal. The feeling of numbness and ‘stuntedness’ has also caused me issues in my relationships in the past. It’s not something I had been warned about and it’s something that is quite awkward to talk to anyone about, let alone your GP.
“I now take Sertraline, which, combined with counselling seems to be working well for me. I used to see taking antidepressants as weak and the easy option but I don't think I would have been able to cope with some of the things I have done without them. But to this day I still haven't ever had someone explain properly how and why they work. I've had to do my own research to understand what was going on and what I was putting into my body, which is something I definitely feel can be improved upon.”
Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind, said: “More people are taking antidepressants than ever before and, while they can be effective in managing depression, the side effects can have a big impact on people’s quality of life. Anyone being prescribed antidepressants should be made aware of the possible side effects they might experience so that they can weigh up the potential benefit against any negative impact on their health or other aspects of their lives. They should also have their treatment reviewed regularly so that any problems can be identified and alternative treatments considered if appropriate.
“We would also welcome more research into the impact of antidepressants and other drugs on the whole person, so that the decision to take them can be even better informed.”
Professor John Read of the University of East London, who conducted the analysis of Mind’s research, commented: “Studies usually focus on the biological side effects of these drugs but it seems other aspects of people’s lives can be equally effected. People taking antidepressants need to be warned about these effects, which can be very upsetting, especially in people who are already experiencing depression.
“It is also concerning that over half of people on antidepressants in this survey were also on one or more other psychiatric drugs. This polypharmacy, or ‘cocktail’ approach to prescribing is on the increase, but it is not an evidence-based approach and clearly causes more adverse effects.”
The research paper is available to view for free until the end of August 2017: READ, J., GEE, A., DIGGLE, J., BUTLER, H. (2017). The interpersonal adverse effects reported by 1,008 users of antidepressants; and the incremental impact of polypharmacy. Psychiatry Research.
Read Mind's advice on taking antidepressants on our information pages.