I’m currently halfway through Bryony Gordon’s book ‘Mad Girl’- the honest account of a life with mental illness and her story about how she finally found some happiness and semblance of normality. However, as I was reading her account of the first time she went to a doctor to talk about her OCD something struck me hard. The doctor handed her a prescription of antidepressant drugs at 17-years-old. Drugs that are literally brain altering. Drugs that alter the chemicals your body produces, change the way that you think and can have horribly negative side-effects.
As I was doing a bit more digging, I started to realise quite how many people I knew who had been prescribed anti-depressant drugs from a young age (myself included)- and that there’s such a culture these days that tablets and drugs are the cure and only viable solution to mental health problems.
When I first went to the doctor about my eating disorder (aged 14) I was told to fill out a questionnaire. I’m sure if you’ve ever been diagnosed with a mental health condition in the UK, you’ll know the one I’m talking about? The questionnaire is called the GAD7 and has around 25 questions on it where you basically rank how true the statements are from ‘Not at all’ to ‘Nearly every day.’
Based on my hastily scrawled answers, I was diagnosed instantly by a doctor who had spent all of 5 minutes in my company, with severe anxiety- but no depression.
I left that surgery with the offer of antidepressants (that I didn’t accept) and a long wait for therapy… but was that really the best scenario for me? I have to wonder how many other young people have been through the exact same scenario, except instead of leaving empty handed- carrying a piece of paper that would dictate the brain-altering drugs that they might take for the rest of their lives?
I have now been on and off antidepressants for the last 6-7 years- having been later prescribed them for my OCD at university- and honestly? Yes, they have helped. I won’t deny that just for the sake of this blog post and to make my point…
I don’t deny that tablets worked for me, I genuinely think that they were the most beneficial thing at a time when I was desperate for my brain to shut up, I think that they were what I needed specifically at that moment.
However, what I do think needs to change- is what people are taught about them. I was handed them, told to read the instructions and immediately started taking them. I was mildly warned that I shouldn’t drink alcohol on them and that I might have some nausea, but the first few months (even years in my case) were a blur of emotions, tablets, drinking so I blacked out most nights, sickness, loss of appetite (fueling more eating disordered behaviours) and even worse.
I feel like in the western world we have such a ‘pill-popping’ culture. Although I don’t for a second believe that there’s anything wrong with taking these drugs to regulate mood and although I’m a firm believer in the science, I can’t help but think that it shouldn’t be this easy to get the prescription.
There is no ‘one pill, one cure’ or miracle drug. We’re all wired so differently, that how can dishing out the same tablet to so many be the cure we’re looking for? I think we need a new approach to the way we treat mental illness and a reassessment of GP practice.
I think that we need to better educate people on the other ways of managing mental health and ultimately I think that there needs to be more than 5 minutes of a GP’s time to be given something that will change your entire life.