With financial woes still dominating people's lives, the cost of living continuing to rise and a stagnant economy, it is perhaps not surprising that the use of antidepressants has soared in recent years.
However, according to an article published in the Guardian, the use of antidepressants has also soared in the past decade in wealthier countries such as Iceland, Canada, China and Australia. Meanwhile, the incidents of depression haven't increased, leading some experts to suggest that they are being prescribed un-necessarily. This they say, is also due to a lack of alternative therapies which has only led to a predominently "medicalised" approach to the treatment of stress related illnesses.
When administered, Antidepressants help to lift the symptoms of depression as well as helping to prevent a reoccurrence of the illness. They often act to increase the serotonin levels in the brain; a lack of serotonin has been associated with the symptoms of a number of mental illnesses.
What Are The Different Types of Antidepressants?
Antidepressants come in different forms. These include monoamine oxidase inhibitors, tricyclic drugs, serotonin-adrenaline reuptake inhibitors, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed as they are believed to have fewer side effects and are not addictive.
Commonly prescribed medications include Sertraline, Prozac (Fluoxetine) and Amitriptyline.
What Illnesses Are They Used to Treat?
As well as being used to treat depression, these drugs can also be used to manage anxiety disorders, panic attacks and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. One form of the medication such as Amitriptyline is also often prescribed to help patients suffering from nerve pain. If a patient is suffering from a nerve disease such as neuropathy, then this type of medication is often considered the most effective method of managing the discomfort.
The Dangers of Antidepressants
When first taking drugs to treat depression, some patients may begin to experience suicidal thoughts or feelings of wanting to harm themselves. This is more of a problem in younger patients and with people who have self-harmed before. These symptoms usually ease the longer the drugs are taken and these feelings should begin to disappear within a few days or weeks.
There is also a chance that these medications could interact with other drugs and antidepressants can get less effective the more that they are taken. While some doctors believe in the long term use of these drugs, others will only prescribe them for a short period of around six months.
Alcohol should also be avoided when on antidepressant medication as the effects of the alcohol will be much stronger and can cause drowsiness or confusion.
What Are The Side Effects?
The side effects are usually pretty mild and will be worse when they are first taken. Insomnia, overtiredness, nausea, skin rashes, headaches and vivid dreams are some of the common side effects associated with antidepressants.
Other patients may also experience aches and pains, stomach and digestive discomfort, weight loss or gain and difficulty concentrating. There can be more serious side effects, such as problems with eye sight or controlling blood sugar levels, but these are uncommon.
Diabetics should take particular care when they are on these types of drugs as they can sometimes cause hyperglycaemia or they can cause the blood sugars to run too low as well as reduced warnings of hypoglycaemia.
Patients on blood thinning or anti-inflammatory drugs should also be careful as antidepressants can cause the stomach to bleed.
How Effective Are They?
The majority of people will see an improvement in their symptoms while on medication. The drugs can take up to two weeks to begin working and after six months, patients should start to witness a real improvement in the alleviation of their depression.
However, experts now agree that antidepressants are most effective when taken in conjunction with counselling.
Alternatives to Antidepressants
Patients with severe depression will need medical help and an antidepressant will often be necessary in order for them to start feeling better. However, in the case of mild to moderate depression, then natural alternatives may be preferred.
St John's Wort is one herbal medication that is recommended for the treatment of depression, but should not be taken along with antidepressant medication.
In recent years, experts have begun to view Cognitive Behaviour Therapy has an effective means of managing the symptoms of depression; this form of therapy can also be useful for patients with OCD or anxiety issues.
CBT is available on the NHS in the UK, but the waiting lists are long. For those interested in CBT, there are many books and CDs available on this subject that patients will find helpful.
Physical exercise is also thought to be very beneficial when it comes to dealing with milder forms of depression. Physical exercise has been proven to increase the serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain, which a lack of, is strongly associated with depression.
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Updated: April 24, 2018 CET