Going In Blind
There’s a lot of times in life when you go into things blind. New relationships, new jobs; you may think you know what you’re getting into but you get into things and it’s not quite what you expected. Sometimes it’s good things, but more commonly you find the things they don’t tell you are the ‘not so pleasant’ surprises. And it’s the same with mental health.
If you find yourself at that point you’ve gone to the doctor to get help because of depression or anxiety, the go-to move is for the GP to prescribe antidepressants as a stop gap while you wait for appropriate counselling. Good right? Well yes and no. Yes, they are putting in some treatment to help you, but you quite often find that due to time constraints there’s little to no explanation of side effects before you walk out of the appointment. The assumption is that you’ll read the finely printed leaflet in your box of pills.
But let’s be honest, how many people actually do that? I only do it because it’s a habit I learned from my dad. His knowledge of medicines and chemistry was pretty awesome and on more than one occasion he’d pointed out to his own doctor the perils of prescribing certain medications at the same time. (I recall one particular combination where the side effect could have been death). But he got me in the habit, I read the little leaflets and research the medication. But a lot of people don’t.
A Risky Business
The things they don’t tell you can be pretty damned important. Did you know if you are taking Sertraline you cannot take ibuprofen? Or have grapefruit juice? Alex certainly didn’t when he was first prescribed it. But it’s actually really important as it can do severe damage.
Likewise the side effects of some anti-depressants get glossed over. Some of the side effects can be short term, but there are some that just don’t seem to go. Alex still gets hideous leg cramps due to his meds. We both have, let’s just say…an interesting time with our stomachs. (Spicy food is not your friend with Sertraline). I expected side effects. I didn’t expect them not to ever go away.
But that’s just it. Your GP doesn’t have the time to tell you. What’s so wrong with this is that when you have depression or anxiety your mental state is not necessarily at it’s most rational or logical. You are trusting your doctor that they are doing the right thing. I’m not saying they’re not. But a frank discussion of what type of side effects could come into play could help direct which medication to prescribe. Looking back, if I’d known that a year on I’d still be plagued with stomach cramps, almost daily upset stomachs to the point that the doctor ended up prescribing an additional medication to help my stomach cope with the 200mg of Sertraline I take a day. Well, I may have asked to look at something else.
The Things They Don’t Tell You Can Really Matter
That’s just the problem. Because of the huge pressures on time and resources there just isn’t the opportunity for your doctor to talk like that. But the side effects can really matter. Take for example one of the more commonly known side effects of anti-depressants; impotence and loss of libido. If you are a couple who were trying for a baby (maybe even the inability to have one was a triggering factor to your mental health issues), then something that decreases your sexual drive in this way is going to make things even more tricky. It could just make things even worse.
And we see this time and time again. As highlighted in Hope Virgo‘s recent campaign to #dumpthescales , it wasn’t commonly known that access to eating disorder help was being determined by weight thresholds. Yep, even if you were known to suffer from anorexia or bulimia, you could be refused treatment because you weren’t skinny enough. When a concerned parent takes their child to the doctor because of eating disorder problems, what they don’t tell you is that your child could be turned away for weighing too much even when it’s openly acknowledged that eating disorders are mental illnesses. It’s insane!
We Need to Talk
Considering we live in the information age, currently there seems to be a big gap when it comes to all things mental health. From not knowing where or who to go to for help, to even just open discussions about treatment, there seems to be a lot of blundering around in the dark. It’s because of things like this that people make basic wrong assumptions about subjects like self harm, eating disorders and medication.
“You can’t be anorexic, you’re not that skinny.”
“People only self-harm to get attention.”
“You shouldn’t take anti-depressants, they’ll turn you into a zombie.”
So what do we do about it? We need to really start talking about it! From our doctors being more open and honest about side effects, to even us as sufferers sharing more of what is going on with us we can help educate people. We can break down the stigma. By sharing our experiences, having those conversations with our families and friends we can make a change. Even if it’s just as simple as knowing that because your friend is on Sertraline may be why they’re ducking out of curry night, to how overwhelming it can feel to a sufferer of anxiety to do shopping and finding blessed relief in a store that is running the Autism Hour initiative; it all helps. Just having that little bit more knowledge can make all the difference.
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