The drugs can work

drugs-free-rajasthanA friend of mine recently started taking anti-depressants. It wasn’t an easy decision for her, neither was it a decision that she took lightly. However, after battling with depression for many years, her doctor recommended a multi-pronged approach to treatment. Combining, a talking therapy, self-administered mindfulness and anti-depressants.

After an initial struggle with the side effects, which included drowsiness, mood swings and some low mood, my friend noticed a difference in their overall mood. They felt stabilised, less irritable and were more able to cope with stressful days, at home or work. They also noticed a marked difference in their reactions to situations involving conflict or confrontations – whereas previously they may have reacted with anger, overcome by their feelings and unable to cope with their emotions – they now reacted moderately, their mind clearer and thus able to better manage their negative feelings and emotions. Of course, the anti-depressants have not given them new abilities to cope with stressful situations. However they have taken off the edge of low mood and everything that comes with it: the rumination, the endless cycle of negative thoughts and feelings which for someone dealing with severe depression can seem like reality, and finally the fixed perception of negativity. Anti-depressants are by no means a cure, and the decision to take them should be part of an overall treatment plan, that is done in consultation with a qualified mental health professional or doctor. Studies show that when taken alone, with no other form of therapy, the rate of recovery is low, with many people becoming dependent on them. Combined therapies have been shown to be more effective when there is a need for medication.

I personally was a sceptic of medication treatments, however through years of working with people with severe and enduring mental health difficulties, I have understood that there are some situations where medication is essential. Similarly we would never think twice about taking medication for diabetes or high cholesterol, especially if it meant a better quality of life. However for people who experience depression, pretty much in the same way one might experience a common cold, I felt that medication should be a last resort, rather using psychological remedies and tools to overcome their bouts of low mood.

Within the Muslim and South Asian communities there is still a huge stigma around mental illness. So much so that I have dealt with cases, where tragically parents have stopped their children from seeking appropriate treatment, help and support -in order to avoid being ostracised from their own communities. A better understanding of mental health problems and the ways they can be treated will help us to overcome this pervasive stigma. Hence I wanted to share my friends story of taking medication for depression.

Observing the experience of my friend closely and in a personal way has, made me reflect on this position. I am yet to still see what happens when it is time for my friend to wean off the medication. I know that this is when the talking therapy and mindfulness will provide the support and tools to enable her to live without medication and manage her depression in the long term.

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