Antidepressants are widely prescribed by GPs for clinical depression and generalised anxiety disorder, but not everyone has a good experience of the medication. Most GPs agree that if they are prescribed, the patient should ideally be offered talking therapy as well. Having said that, counselling isn’t always available promptly on the NHS.
Apart from an instinctive rejection of medication by some people with depression, what also gives antidepressants a bad press is the fact that they don’t always work. For some, the first medication prescribed actually make the patient’s symptoms worse, possibly to the point of being suicidal.
GPs will generally start a patient on the least powerful antidepressant, which will have fewer side effects. If it doesn’t work after a couple of weeks, the GP should then change the medication to see if another type is more effective. It can seem like trial and error and for some the process can take what seems like ages before the patient feels any relief of symptoms.
So reports that a blood test has been developed by UK scientists which will help doctors select the best drug for patients seem welcome – except it is very early days. What the study actually showed was how the blood test can help identify those who could benefit from antidepressants and those who might not. While this, in itself, is still a welcome development, it doesn’t yet pinpoint the exact medication for specific people. More research is needed to do that.
The causes of depression and how antidepressants work still aren’t completely known. There is a group of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters – serotonin and noradrenaline, for instance – which can improve mood and emotion. Increasing levels of these chemicals should, it is thought, reduced the symptoms of depression. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, 50-65 per cent of people taking antidepressants will gain an improvement, fairly quickly.
But while medication aims to treat the symptoms of depression and anxiety, but it doesn’t treat the causes. Depression is often brought on by adverse events in life, such as bereavement, job loss or divorce. Exploring the effects and meaning with counselling, or addressing negative thoughts with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), will help you tackle depression and anxiety.