The stigma of anti-depressants

False generalizations prevent many from seeking the help they need.

by Leah Lancaster

It’s always a bit awkward for me when the topic of antidepressants comes up in conversation. It may sound like an odd subject for your average college student to discuss, but in reality, college students tend to be the group most affected by depression. In 2009, the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment — a nationwide survey of college students at two- and four-year institutions — found that nearly 30 percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function” at some time in the past year. In a 2012 University of Minnesota antidepressant research study, a report stated, “Depression among college students is an escalating problem and has now surpassed substance abuse and alcohol use as a cause for concern on college campuses.”

I’ve been taking antidepressants since I was 15, and I know for a fact that had I not, there’s a high chance I wouldn’t have gone to college. Yet, when the topic comes up, I often find myself defending my decision against accusations that I’m “numbing myself” or “taking the easy way out.” Supposedly, if I did yoga, ate healthier and took a more “natural” approach, I wouldn’t need to contaminate my mind and body with toxic pills. Strangely enough, these revised prescriptions always come from people who aren’t doctors or psychiatrists.

This all-too-common rhetoric is based on misrepresentations of antidepressants in the media and a complete misunderstanding of what depression is. Too often, college students, and society as a whole, settle with being miserable — or even suicidal — for years on end because of the stigma and horror stories associated with antidepressants. Like any medicine, antidepressants aren’t perfect. But to make the sweeping generalization that all of them are bad is dangerous and prevents many from getting the help they need.

According to Mayo Clinic medical researchers, the exact causes of depression are still unknown. As with many other mental illnesses, a variety of factors may be involved. Biological differences, neurotransmitters, hormones, inherited traits, life events and early childhood trauma can all play a role in causing depression. Since there are varying levels of depression, there are a wide range of symptoms. They can go from insomnia, perpetual fatigue, difficulty concentrating and restlessness to alcohol and substance abuse, self-mutilation and suicide.

Before I started taking antidepressants, it was hard for me to get through the school day. I would fall asleep in class or fake sick so I could go home early. It was hard for me to get out of bed in the morning nevertheless have the motivation to sign up for yoga or prepare healthy meals for myself. It finally got to the point where my therapist, whom I had been seeing for more than a year, told me I should strongly consider getting on something. After a few trial runs with a couple different pills and psychiatrists, I found a combination I was comfortable with. The pills, however, did not “cure” my depression. No pill can do that. What they can do is give you some energy and focus so you can make it through the day without feeling lethargic, irritable or just downright horrible. But the rest is up to you.

Contrary to popular belief, getting on antidepressants is far from “the easy way out.” For many, it’s an extremely challenging process to go through. The reality is that many psychiatrists do give out pills too freely, and many patients start taking medications without properly researching them beforehand. If you think you are dealing with depression, find a therapist or psychiatrist and discuss it with them first. Before taking any pills, research them online, read testimonials and talk it over extensively with a psychiatrist. Don’t ever be afraid to question your health care provider or say no to a prescription you don’t feel comfortable with. This applies to anything regarding your health, not just antidepressants. The mental health care system has its flaws, and finding the right pill and psychiatrist can be hard work, but the payoff is undeniably worth it.

At the University, mental health care services are highly accessible and affordable. Though the long waiting lists are daunting, accommodations will be made if you really need to talk to someone. On the mental health part of the University’s website, there is a list of numbers and resources for urgent and crisis situations, including 24-hour crisis lines. Never be ashamed to seek help if you feel you need it. These resources exist because many other students are dealing with depression as well.

It always struck me as odd that binge drinking, smoking, unprotected sex, caffeine addiction and various other “study drugs” are deemed socially acceptable while antidepressants are considered too dangerous and mind numbing to be worth it. It is often taken for granted that antidepressants often help lessen the risk of substance abuse, self-mutilation and suicide. Depression is a serious issue with even more serious consequences. It’s unfair to shame those who are trying to get better because of stereotypes and false assumptions.