Imagine if you were suffering with cancer and the pills the doctor prescribed you made your cancer worse.
Imagine if you had diabetes and the doctor gave you insulin that made your blood sugars rise.
Think about someone you know that has high blood pressure and their doctor wrote them a prescription, but all the drugs did was clog their arteries.
While the examples above seem quite far fetched for these common health problems, people with mental health issues face this type of terrifying struggle more often than not. I don’t know about you, but before having to take antidepressants myself, I never spent one minute in contemplation about what the experience would be like for people who were struggling with mental health. It didn’t impact me, and I really could care less. I think that is probably the typical response people would give to the question, if they were to be totally honest with you. While, I’m not here to highlight your lack of empathy or understanding about mental health, I would like you to have a taste of what the struggle really is for a fellow sufferer.
I was 23 years old when I was prescribed antidepressants for the first time. I was started with a middle of the road dose of 20mg of Citalopram, the generic version of a widely prescribed drug called Celexa. I fought the idea, tooth and nail, but like many many others, I was so broken at that point that I eventually caved. You have to recognize, as a young male filled with hubris and fear, taking an antidepressant is synonymous with being an outcast or “uncool”. I had spent far too many years of my life trying to prove to the world just how “cool” I was. Let’s just say antidepressants were the knife blade to my achilles heel.
I hope you would have gathered by now that most people struggling with mental health generally attempt everything and anything they can to avoid having to have a pharmaceutical intervention to help balance things out. The amount of money I pissed away on supplements over the years, hoping to find a natural cure could have fed a small city in Africa. Pardon my political incorrectness with my humour, but I really need your attention here to help you grasp the seriousness of how often tragic it is to find a drug that actually works.
Patients walk into the doctor’s office feeling like the sky is falling and there is absolutely nothing that can be done about it. The doctor, usually a GP, with little educational background in mental health. Why you ask? because in order to get face to face behind the few psychiatrist’s with expertise in the field can take months and months, if not years. So they doctors, who have been marketed from the pestering Big Pharma companies write you a small script for whatever pops into their mind during your 10 minute visit and assessment. Often through a quick Google search and review of a few medical journal publications, you can have about just as much background knowledge on the pill you are about to take as your doctor has.
Let me once again remind you that most people are shooting their last shot at regaining a smidgen of hope in their life by the time they swallow their first antidepressant. But before taking a pill to help improve the way they are feeling, patients must be made aware of the extensive side-effects and warnings that are known to result from taking these drugs. Here is the exciting list for Celexa:
- dry mouth
- increased sweating
- sexual difficulties
- stuffy or runny nose
- feeling restless or unable to sit still
- new or worsened emotional or behavioural problems
- overactive thoughts and behaviour
- signs of liver problems (e.g., nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes, dark urine, pale stools)
- signs of clotting problems (e.g., unusual nosebleeds, bruising, blood in urine, coughing blood, bleeding gums, cuts that don’t stop bleeding)
- symptoms of glaucoma (e.g., blurred vision, seeing halos of bright colours around lights, red eyes, increased pressure in your eyes, eye pain or discomfort)
- symptoms of heart rhythm changes (e.g., pounding heart beat, dizziness, fainting, seizures)
- symptoms of low sodium in the blood (e.g., tiredness; weakness; confusion; or achy, stiff, or uncoordinated muscles)
- seizure or convulsions
- serotonin syndrome (signs include agitation, confusion, diarrhea, fever, overactive reflexes, poor coordination, restlessness, shivering, sweating, talking or acting with excitement you cannot control, trembling or shaking, twitching)
- signs of bleeding in the stomach (e.g., bloody, black, or tarry stools, spitting up of blood, vomiting blood or material that looks like coffee grounds)
- signs of a severe skin reaction such as blistering, peeling, a rash covering a large area of the body, a rash that spreads quickly, or a rash combined with fever or discomfort
- thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself
As you can imagine, for liability reasons, this list is extensive and far reaching. But I can say with confidence that I have experienced at least 50% of these side effects, if not more. Not only do antidepressants have a giant list of nasty things they can cause, they can often just stop working. Over the decade or so of gambling with SSRI’s and SNRI’s, there have been more losses than wins, but what is the alternative?
In America, 123 people every day on average commit suicide. How many of these people struggle with mental health may be a statistic we might never be able to calculate, but I’ve known many people who struggle with mental health who have thought it was the only way out, including myself.
If your mind is fighting against you, and you are filled with terror every day because of it, how scary is it to be given drugs that can take 6 weeks to start working that come with a list of side effects as mentioned above? Sometimes you notice immediately that the drugs don’t agree with your body, and then other times it can take up to a month before you find out, only to then have to stop immediately and face the consequences of not titrating down, or you can slowly back off that drug and introduce another. This kind of mix and matching can take a whole year to finally gel with something that works for you and your pain. And because of this excruciating length of time and struggle that it takes for people who already believe with their whole heart that life will never get brighter finally throw in the towel of defeat and give into their disease. Exhausted, all alone, completely broken, they end it all.
So next time you hear about a friend having to change their medication, or being placed on antidepressants for the first time, recognize the battle within that they are facing, and provide them with the love and kindness that they are incapable of providing for themselves. Who knows, you might just be the reason they push forward and finally wake-up to the world around them being turned bright again, as if someone turned the dimmer switch all the way back up in a room.
There is hope for mental illness, and there is a lot of people who are absolutely crushing and loving life that take drugs for their mental health, but the important thing to realize is that none of us should have to do it alone in the solitude of despair.