Demystifying Antidepressants Series: Post 3

Everyone gets the blues sometimes, myself included. In a stressful university setting, especially situated in rainy Vancouver, feeling down every once and a while is natural. But there is a difference between a day or two of melancholy and a seriously lengthy slump.

Depression is a term that is often used but rarely understood. Especially among university students, depression is frequently viewed negatively as a condition representing isolation and personal failure. Even less properly understood are the benefits, side effects and situations in which antidepressants could be used as treatments for serious depression.

Over the next few weeks, the Healthy Minds team will be featuring interviews from a counsellor, pharmacist, physician and a student in an attempt to alleviate some of the stigma associated with depression and antidepressant usage.

The first part of the series here features an interview with Natalie DeFreitas, a staff member and Registered Clinical Counsellor with UBC Counselling Services:

1.     Are antidepressants an “easy way out” from facing your problems?

No single form of treatment can be seen as a panacea or “golden key” for treating depression. Research shows that depending on the person’s unique experiences, a combination of approaches, including counselling, self care/lifestyle changes and pharmacological treatments, have the best results. The good news is that there are successful treatments for depression out there. I would not consider any treatment of depression “an easy way out”; each person experiences their emotions differently, therefore, there is an adjustment period for each person as they find out what treatment approach works best for them. All approaches will require some patience, commitment and resiliency from the individual.

2.     Can you “snap out” of depression?

Depression can be complex and occurs for many reasons, some contextual and some biological, social, or psychological. Therefore, it’s unrealistic to expect to be able to “snap out” of it. That said, reaching out for help early on can assist an individual in getting back on track faster. There are many supports out there for people struggling with symptoms of depression and an abundance of research demonstrating success in the treatment of depression. With the right treatment and supports in place, positive outcomes can occur in a short period of time.

3.     Do antidepressants change your personality?

There is no evidence that antidepressants change people’s core personality, however, as each person is different they may experience different effects. There are many effective antidepressants today, and we encourage students to work closely and transparently with their doctor to monitor the possible side effects of medication and learn more about each treatment. Doctors work diligently to provide psychoeducation, monitor dosage and connect the person to different approaches as necessary. As with any form of treatment, sustainable change requires some patience and resiliency.

4.     Are antidepressants the only solution to depression?

Depression is linked to a combination of biological, social, psychological and environmental influences, so therefore, there is no single “solution” to depression. Healthy sleep, eating and exercise habits, psychotherapy, and anti-depressant medication have all been shown to be effective for treating depression. When a person experiences depression it effects their wellness in multiple ways, therefore it is important to attend to one’s social, physical, spiritual, and mental wellbeing. Although it may seem difficult at first, introducing changes to one or more of theseareas may kick-start positive thoughts and feelings, reversing the cycle of depression. If a person is considering the use of antidepressants, we  encourage them to be an active health care consumer and speak with a doctor about any concerns they might have.

5.     Where do you think stigma surrounding antidepressants come from, what can be done about it?

Stigma often prevents people from reaching out for help. Stigma regarding depression and treatment for depression can arise from the expectations that one “should” be able to handle mood swings on their own and/or that receiving treatment for depression means failure to manage on one’s own. In actuality, reaching out for help in any form takes a great deal of strength, self-awareness and resiliency. It’s important to tell yourself the same things you’d tell a friend going through something similar – that help is available and  it’s ok to reach out. Remember that anyone can experience mental health difficulties; in fact, 1 in 5 Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. The more we talk about it, the more we learn that we’re not alone and the more likely we are to overcome stigma and find support. Remember that asking for help early on will make it easier to get back on track.

6.     What are helpful resources to consult for someone who suffers from depression?

If you think you may be dealing with some symptoms of depression, it is important to reach out and seek help. UBC Counselling Services provides assessment and referral to specialized individual and groups programs for individuals struggling with depression as well as referral to UBC Student Health Services for assessment for antidepressant medication. SpeakEasy and Kaleidoscope are also great resources for students to receive support from peers.  For after hours crisis support, call the Crisis Line  24/7 at 1-800-SUICIDE. Reaching out to friends, family and/or professional support helps create the connections that build resiliency.

Do you have questions or thoughts about depression and treatment? Feel free to leave a comment!