Thinking About Taking Antidepressants? Here Are 5 Things To Consider First

Psychotherapist By Alena Gerst, LCSW
Alena Gerst, LCSW, E-RYT, is a licensed psychotherapist, yoga instructor, and certified LifeForce™ Yoga practitioner. She received her her master's in clinical health from Columbia University.

If I had a nickel for every time someone struggling with depression told me they don't "believe" in antidepressants...

Even with all of the information proving depression is an illness, not a weakness, the disorder still has a powerful stigma attached to it. Even though we know how swiftly and profoundly depression can strike us or those we love, some of us are still wary of using medication as a means to treat it.

Deciding on a course of treatment for depression is nothing to take lightly.

I get it. I'm a psychotherapist, and I'm also a yoga instructor. I eat organic and local food as much as possible. I love to research, try out, and recommend the many natural ways to boost mood and improve overall health through nutrition, movement, breath, socializing, and mindfulness.

But I'm also ready to acknowledge that, for some people, medication can be a powerful and effective force for good.

I am not a doctor and I don't prescribe. But I do work with people suffering from depression every day, and have even struggled with it myself at times. I have seen firsthand how medication can help people lead happier and more productive lives — but only when it's prescribed properly and used judiciously.

If you are struggling with depression and have thought about taking antidepressants, here are five important things to consider before making any decisions:

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1. Medication won't solve all your problems.

In the treatment of depression, I like to think of medication as a tool, not a cure. In some cases, medication can help you to get out of bed, dress yourself, stop crying, and perform other normal daily activities that can feel like too much to bear when you're in a depressive state. Though it won't make your problems magically disappear, it can help you clear your head enough to talk things through with a skilled therapist or trusted friend.

2. Medication won't make you feel "high."

In the best-case scenario, it will make you feel normal. I've heard some people express concern that medication will alter their personality, but it's actually the depression itself that changes people more often than they realize.

While different antidepressants address different neurotransmitters in the brain, the most commonly prescribed are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. These specifically target a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Among other functions, serotonin is responsible in part for regulating mood and emotions. In short, a person who is experiencing major depression may benefit from a higher level of serotonin, and the SSRI acts as an agent to increase the amount of serotonin in the brain.

In the treatment of depression, I like to think of medication as a tool, not a cure.

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3. Prescribing medication is not an exact science.

There are many drugs on the market to treat depression, and side effects are common and varied. When you choose to take an antidepressant, it often takes six to eight weeks to feel the full effects. And sometimes it takes several tries of different medications to find the right one for you.

I have seen patients experience uncomfortable side effects like fatigue, weight gain, and decreased libido from certain medications. In each of these cases, they tried different medications over the course of several months and eventually found one that had minimal to no side effects. If you decide to embark on the medication route, prepare to be patient and know that you don't have to accept side effects as a given.

4. Be sure to work with a professional who specializes in treating depression.

I work in a hospital and in private practice. I see people who have been prescribed antidepressants by their primary physicians, pain management doctors, OB/GYNs — you name it. I cannot stress enough the importance of working with someone who specializes in treating this condition — whether this is a psychiatrist, psychopharmacologist, or psychiatric nurse practitioner. They'll be more likely to have up-to-date information about possible side effects, interactions with different drugs, and other available options.

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5. Adherence is key.

Deciding on a course of treatment for depression is nothing to take lightly. You should take only the prescribed dose every day and, if you miss a dose, be sure to check in with your provider to find out what to do. And when you decide to come off the medications, I strongly encourage my clients to do so only with the guidance of their prescribing physicians.

Though medication is not for everyone, it's perfectly acceptable to use as one component of a multifaceted path to recovery from depression.

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