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  • Eli Stuart (they/them)

Stigma of Antidepressants

[Cover Image Description: There is a white background with a clear cup at the bottom right. The cup has various pills of differing colors and shapes. End of description]


Note: There are people who could choose to be on antidepressants and don’t because of side effects or other reasons. Everyone should make the choice right for them, so this article is focused on the unsolicited and harmful comments around antidepressants that are often full of ignorance.


Note again: this focuses specifically on antidepressants for depression or other mood disorders. If you have a different experience than mine shared in this article and you wish to add on to this or you have experience around the stigma of another type of mental health medication, you can send your thoughts to actively.tired.disabled@gmail.com


CW: There is a brief part at the end that mentions suicidal ideation (no details given, just put there to generally explain how depression felt for me when it was untreated).


There are a great number of people who see antidepressants as bad or undesirable, setting up a stigma against people who take antidepressants. This article addresses some common misconceptions around antidepressants to address the ignorance that is at the root of such stigma (from here on out, I will use “meds”/ “medication” interchangeably with “antidepressants” as that is the specific medication I am focusing on).


“Antidepressants aren’t a cure-all”


This is correct: antidepressants aren’t a cure-all. And people are generally told and know this fact. Depression and other mood disorders that are treated by antidepressants come from more than just an imbalance of chemicals in the brain.

Generally, depression is treated in conjunction with other therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Dilatecial Behavioral Therapy (DBT). CBT and DBT both have a focus on the cognitive part of depression (such as negative thoughts/thought patterns) and on changing behavior for the better (CBT mostly focuses on engaging in positive behaviors while DBT focuses on getting rid of harmful and destructive behaviors). However, there is still a biological/chemical aspect.

I see antidepressants like this: They help bring the levels of serotonin or norepinephrine to a “normal” level. With depression, there are fewer “happy chemicals” (ie: serotonin and norepinephrine) than someone without depression or a similar mood disorder. Antidepressants help get people closer to the baseline of those chemicals you see in those without depression. This also means that antidepressants don’t make someone suddenly happy. In fact, doctors are very careful with serotonin, in particular, to make sure someone does not develop serotonin syndrome (a negative drug reaction that can, among other symptoms, raise heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, pupil dilation, etc. Such a reaction can be deadly). For that reason, doctors monitor closely any medication that has serotonin and will not prescribe more than one medication that increases serotonin.


“You should try to get off of medication”


This type of attitude represents the stigma behind mental health medication. Most medication does not receive this response.

For example, I have a thyroid condition that causes me to underproduce thyroid hormones. Even when I get to a point where I’m asymptotic and in the normal range, I expect to stay on medication. The reason I would be feeling better is thanks to the medication. The saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” fits here. If medication is making your depression and related symptoms better, why try and mess with one of the factors that have led to recovery?

Additionally, stopping and starting antidepressants are really something you can’t do by yourself or use an “as needed” medication when depression starts to hit. While there isn’t an exact known reason as to why, it is seen that antidepressants take about a month to see an effect (though the side effects can be experienced within 1-2 weeks of starting the medication). So you can’t just choose to go back on medication by yourself or in an immediate fashion. Further, there are many antidepressants and not all may work well for a person, so there tends to be some trial and error to figure out the right dosage and medication. Stopping medication often has to be through “tampering” or lowering the dose slowly over a period of time. This is due to withdrawal symptoms that can occur in some medications.

All in all, being on medication is a valid choice and the right choice for many people. While I’m doing well currently with my depression and I have done a lot of therapy, I don’t see myself removing my medication. As explained above, the chemical aspect is still a concern, regardless of outside stressors and treatments. Someone shouldn’t try to avoid or stop taking medication based purely on the stigma around such medications.


“It changes who you are as a person!”

As mentioned above, the effect on people is less outwardly dramatic as people portray or believe. In either case, I pose this question: Is it better for me to be the person who was depressed and suicidal all the time, who was full of self-hate and loneliness, who was preoccupied with destructive habits than how I am now: The version of myself that recognizes I have worth, who looks forward to the future, who is able to fully participate in the world and to find enjoyment?

Medication isn’t the only reason I’ve improved, but it has helped a lot, such as keeping me stable day-to-day and preventing me from falling deep into depression again. My medication is necessary and not something I can or will disregard based on stigmas.


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