Friday, 13 December 2013

'Tis the season to be jolly - what's the role of antidepressants?

It's Christmas, that wonderful time of year when we deck the halls, gather together in community and sing carols to herald the arrival of the newborn Christ-child - right?

Maybe not. For many people, the festive season is now, not only devoid of any spiritual significance, but also associated with the consequences of widespread family breakdown and the socio-economic sleight-of-hand that is currently making paupers out of the middle classes. Thankfully, many of us still find reason to be cheerful, but for those who struggle with depression, this can be the worst time of year to navigate.

A new information resource for people with depression, hailing from research conducted by Oxford University and the University of Nottingham, provides identification and comfort in the form of a series of video interviews, conducted among depression sufferers from all around the country. You can watch these interviews at

What's striking about this piece of work is the honesty of the 30 people interviewed and the broad range of experiences reported across this relatively small cohort (that, and the rather perplexing appearance of Alastair Campbell introducing the work - what, may I ask, does he have to do with any of this?).

A common observation made by interviewees was that the response to antidepressant medication could be as diverse as the number of people being medicated - in other words, each individual appears to respond differently.

Several refer to the reality of side-effects, such as anxiety, feeling detached, dizziness and suicidal feelings, as being an important consideration in the decision to proceed or not. One participant commented "Some of [the side-effects] are not bearable… [so] if you're mildly depressed it may not be worth it." It took some people several years to find an antidepressant that worked for them, usually accompanied by adding in strategies such as talking therapy. A proportion said they had never found an effective treatment.

In contrast, one man, an eighty-four year old, had been prescribed valium for depression since his early thirties and a few years ago was prescribed an SSRI. In his words "the black clouds lifted."

If there's one thing that can be said with certainty - no response can be predicted with certainty, which is what makes this video footage so very interesting. If nothing else. it will provide those who are trying to make a decision about whether to go on medication a realistic impression of what it may mean to take the plunge. Fore-warned is fore-armed and given the massive increase in antidepressant prescriptions in the UK in recent years, this must be considered an important resource.

Along with the reality of the true Christmas message - that love has now entered the world.

Written by Jacqui Hogan

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