Before I finally womaned-up and got treated for my depression, I avoided seeking help for a long time. I had my hesitations: Did I really need to go talk to a stranger and admit I was helpless against my own feelings? Did I really need to introduce a pill into my daily routine that would alter my state of mind? Every option seemed to me like something only a weak person would do. I’m the woman who packed up her life and moved across the country to New York City alone, I thought. I’m not weak. I don’t need a pill.
So instead of seeking treatment, I prescribed eight consecutive hours on the couch, a package of Oreos, and Netflix to treat my depression. And while that’s obviously still a solid way to spend a Saturday, it didn't make me feel better in any way that lasted.
As it turns out, the thing that made me feel like myself again turned out to be exactly what I was so against in the first place: taking an antidepressant. Yes, a little white pill has changed my life. And as for those stigmas about antidepressants I was so worried about? It’s almost like they didn’t even matter once I realized that happiness — or at least, not total hopelessness — is actually an attainable goal.
Of all the obstacles that come with tackling the common mental illness that is depression, worrying about what people think of them shouldn’t be one of them. So, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, here are some of the most common stigmas behind antidepressants — and the truth I found behind them.
Stigma #1: Antidepressants make you feel numb
Everyone responds to medication differently, so if an antidepressant works for you, that doesn’t mean it will work for someone else. “Emotional blunting,” or feeling numb while on an antidepressant, is a huge concern (and complaint) from many patients, but it’s not a guaranteed side-effect of taking medication. If you start an antidepressant and you feel emotionally numb, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor and adjust your dosage, add in other forms of treatment, or switch medications entirely.
In my experience, my antidepressant (Lexapro) has never masked my happiness. It simply makes it easier for me to keep things like chipped nail polish from ruining my day (which, in my defense, can be traumatic). I’ve never experienced numbness. Instead, it’s more like I now have a filter that keeps my negative spirals to a minimum.
Stigma #2: Antidepressants make you gain weight
When I first started taking Lexapro, I was just beginning to introduce myself to the gym. I was getting into the groove of working out, and really didn’t want the medicine I was taking to hinder my goal. Unfortunately, weight gain can be a side effect of taking antidepressants. This could be because the receptors that are being blocked by your SSRI tend to increase your body’s likelihood to push you toward weight gain as they’re blocked.
But as I said earlier, everyone reacts to these medications differently. Some people even lose weight on different antidepressants. Worried about weight gain? Buy yourself a cute pair of neon Nikes and hit the gym! At least now it you might feel motivated.
Stigma #3: you'll be judged as weak for taking antidepressants
It’s easy to feel weak when you need to ask for help. Sitting down with your doctor and laying something so personal out there is a really scary thing to do. When I finally, finally went to the doctor, I cried the entire time. But here's the truth: you aren’t weak. In my opinion, it’s a huge sign of strength to be able to ask for help.
Of course, people like to share their opinions about everything, even when it's about things they don’t understand. When a really close friend of mine heard I was on Lexapro, for example, she said, “I’m just not the kind of person who needs medicine to tell me how I feel.”
Um, thanks. So it’s true: People might judge you, but chances are, they're not the kind of person you want as part of your support system anyway.
Stigma #4: If you take antidepressants, you probably shouldn’t talk about it
One of the reasons medicating to treat depression is so stigmatized is that not enough people are talking about it. It's easy to feel alone and embarrassed. But here's the truth: an estimated one in four Americans will deal with depression or anxiety every year. That’s a lot of Americans.
And the fact is, aside from the one negative response I got from a friend (see above), the most common response I get when I come out of the antidepressant closet? “Really? Me too! What do you take?”
It was surprising at first, but you quickly realize it’s something many people are dealing with.
Stigma #5: you must be screwed up if you need medical help for being sad
Here’s the thing: If you had any other debilitating illness, nobody would judge you for getting treated for it. If you had cancer, nobody would fault you for wanting chemotherapy. If taking antidepressants will make happiness an attainable goal for you, then you have every right in the world to fight for that happiness — without apology.