The pandemic has spurred an increase in mental health disorders like depression, as well as the use of antidepressant medications to treat them. Understanding the complexities of these drugs is critical in determining the most effective treatment plan for overcoming depression.
As we enter the third year of life with Covid-19, more information about the impacts of the pandemic on mental health is becoming available, often with serious results. Recent data in the UK has shown a rise in the rate of antidepressant prescriptions during the pandemic, with 20.8 million antidepressant drugs being prescribed from July-September 2021. This increase was higher than those typical in historic trends, reflecting not only a rise in those seeking help for depression, but the tendency of doctors to respond to these symptoms with a prescription.
While antidepressants can be an important and even life-saving element of depression treatment, like all medications the long-term use of these drugs carries the potential for risks and side effects. Considering all the options available is a critical starting point in promoting a healthy and effective approach to depression treatment.
How Do Antidepressants Work?
There are many drugs available to treat depression, and to find the right one for you, your doctor will consider several factors. These will typically include your symptoms, other physical or mental health issues, potential side effects, and any other medications you may be taking.
The first choice of medication for the treatment of depression is usually a type of drug called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). These tend to have fewer side effects, and are often used for persistent or severe cases of depression. SSRIs work by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Serotonin has positive effects on sleep habits, emotions, and overall mood, thereby lessening symptoms of depression.
Other types of drugs that are prescribed for depression include monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI), and tricyclics (TCA). These also change the ways that mood-related neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine function in the brain, typically with favourable results.
Common Types of Antidepressants
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Isocarboxazid (Marplan)
- Phenelzine (Nardil)
- Selegiline (Emsam)
- Tranylcypromine (Parnate)
- Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- Levomilnacipran (Fetzima)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor XR)
- Desipramine (Norpramin)
- Imipramine (Tofranil)
- Nortriptyline (Pamelor)
It is important to note that depression is a complex mental health condition that is influenced by a variety of factors. While neurotransmitter levels are often a part of this disorder, there are other environmental, biochemistry, genetic, and personality-related factors that are also linked to depression. So, while medication can help address one aspect of depression, a more comprehensive approach to treatment is useful in effectively lessening symptoms over the long term.
What are the Risks of Long-Term Antidepressant Use?
Because depression is a chronic condition, it is not uncommon for medication to be consistently prescribed as a way to mitigate symptoms. Understanding the risks of sustained antidepressant use is important in weighing options for treatment, and coming up with a long-term plan for managing your symptoms.
Common Side Effects of Antidepressants
A 2016 study found that though many of those taking antidepressants noticed benefits as a result of the medication, there were also a variety of reported side effects, including:
- Reduced positive feelings
- Suicidal thoughts
- Sexual problems
- Not feeling like oneself
- Feeling addicted to the medication
- Weight gain
- Emotional numbness
- Feeling less able to care for others
Additionally, those who take antidepressants over a long period of time are also at risk of developing a tolerance, which can lead to the medication no longer being effective in alleviating symptoms of depression.
Are Antidepressants Addictive?
Antidepressants are not addictive in the same way that opioids or alcohol are—they don’t create a euphoric effect, or spur cravings for more. However, they may cause a physical dependence that results in symptoms of withdrawal if the medication is suddenly stopped. These withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Return of depression and related symptoms
- Trouble sleeping
- Nausea and stomach upset
- Flu-like symptoms
The effects of withdrawal typically last for a few weeks, and can cause both physical and emotional discomfort as the body readjusts. Discontinuing use of antidepressants therefore should be done under the guidance and care of a medical professional in order to successfully transition off of the medication and to ensure that your health is safely monitored during this period.
What are Alternatives to Antidepressants?
In response to the sudden rise in antidepressant use, new health guidelines have been issued in the UK advising the use of other methods of treatment when first addressing mild cases of depression. Alternatives to medication include:
- talk therapy,
- integration specific wellness practices,
- use of new technologies such as transcranial magnetic stimulation
These methods are proven to be effective in holistically addressing the causes of depression without the side effects associated with medication.
Using Therapy to Treat Depression
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a first choice of many mental health specialists in addressing depression. This talk therapy can be done in an individual or a group setting, and focuses on identifying problematic thinking patterns, and how these thoughts impact quality of life. The therapist then works with the client to reshape these patterns, and develop coping skills that will reduce stress and build resilience around life’s challenges.
Improving Mood and Relieving Stress through Wellness Practices
Wellness practices like exercise, mindfulness meditation, and yoga have been proven to have positive effects on boosting mood and relieving symptoms of depression via the natural stimulation of mood-related neurotransmitters. Integrating these practices into your daily routines, as well as adhering to a healthy, balanced diet and practicing good sleep habits builds a strong foundation by which to heal from depression.
Trying TMS for Treatment-Resistant Depression
For those who have experienced difficulties in managing symptoms of depression, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may be an effective alternative. This cutting-edge, FDA-approved technology is gentle and non-invasive, using magnetic waves to stimulate nerve cells in the brain linked to mood regulation and depression.
Overcoming Depression at The Dawn
The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab is a unique inpatient mental health treatment centre designed to help people rediscover themselves, understand their disorders and heal from mental health and addiction issues. Based in stunning northern Thailand and internationally accredited by the American Accreditation Commission International (AACI), The Dawn offers holistic programming led by a team of globally-trained professionals.
A Range of Treatments for Depression
The Dawn’s clinical team has created a depression rehab programme which uses a mix of the latest psychotherapeutic techniques, cutting-edge technology and scientifically-proven wellness practices to ensure holistic healing and instill healthy coping skills.
In a day, clients will attend both group and individual therapy, participate in meditation and yoga sessions, and receive a Thai massage or personal fitness training. The Dawn is the only residential centre in both Australia and Asia to offer onsite TMS sessions, which is also an option for clients seeking treatment for depression.
Call The Dawn today and learn more about highly-effective alternatives in depression treatment.