Sunday, 24 July 2011

Antidepressants - My Two Penneth

Disordered eating makes you depressed. This is an unfortunate fact.

The brain is a muscle just like any other and malnutrition has a detrimental effect on the chemical balance within it. Couple this with the relentless, nagging internal critic which is an eating disorder and it’s enough to make anyone plunge into a state of depression.

It’s chicken and egg, for many. (Incidentally, and completely unrelated-ly - I was watching an Attenborough documentary the other day and apparently scientist boffins have discovered that the egg, did, in fact, come first. It naturally evolved, from a stone or something (I got distracted at this point, so the scientific validity of stone part is highly questionable). Anyway. The point is, it’s not longer appropriate to use the phrase ‘chicken and egg’. Shouldn’t have done that. Sorry. Won’t do it again).

When I was bulimic, I genuinely couldn’t work out if I was depressed because I had an eating disorder, or if I had an eating disorder because I was depressed. This was because, at the time, I didn’t understand the true nature of depression. Yes, in retrospect, the binge-purge cycle was a poignant symbolic exercise - a way for me to deal with difficult emotions. But there’s a huge difference between feeling sad and being medically depressed.

Depression isn’t a direct response to an event – In fact, often depressed people have to try and make the landscape of their life fit their feelings. We live in a society where it’s not really acceptable to admit that you’re desperately blue for no real reason at all, so we pick an incident from our past at random, and blame that for how we’re feeling.

The act of making myself sick, many times a day, every day, for several years, rendered me in a constant state of depression. Of that I am in little doubt. But depression wasn’t the causal factor and what I really needed to do was to conquer my eating disorder.

So, when my doctor offered me anti-depressants before my recovery back in 2006, they had exactly the effect you might expect – None whatsoever.

GPs have an average of 6 minutes per patient. Which is fine if you have a broken leg. For mental health issues, however, it’s woefully inadequate. It’s not fair to place the blame at the door of the nation’s doctors. They have deadlines to meet and boxes to tick and are constrained by the structure and red tape and general bureaucracy of the NHS.

However, it’s given rise to the dangerous temptation for doctors to throw antidepressants at any problem. Patients are being prescribed antidepressants for anything from hot flushes to insomnia. It’s regarded as a ‘quick fix’. Well, ‘quick’ it may be, but it doesn’t appear to be ‘fixing’ anything.

Here are a few facts about antidepressants:

• They only work in 30% of cases.

• They are not designed for long-term use but have also been shown not to have a long-term effect (i.e. when you stop taking them you’ll be just as depressed as you were before).

• They have been shown to increase the chances of suicide. Yes, that’s right. Suicidal people are being given drugs which increase the chance of them killing themselves.


That’s why I was delighted to be approached by a journalist who asked me about my experiences of having taken antidepressants for an article she was writing. I told her in no uncertain terms – What I needed was active intervention and some form of intensive mind-based therapy. What I got was 2 weeks off work, a prescription for antidepressants and an 18 month wait for (what transpired to be) a laughably inept counsellor.

I was then contacted again and told that the journalist had chosen to print a story from someone who was in favour of antidepressants, but not mine. Why? We can only conjecture. But this blog is my antidote to that little piece of injustice.

Eating disorders are, by their very nature, shrouded in secrecy. The culture of prescribing antidepressants is only serving to further silence sufferers and to sweep their issues under the proverbial carpet.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more it is the system that needs an overhaul not the people within it, that said the system makes people within it complacent and take the "throw pills at the problem" ethos.

    I remember when I was seeing the doctor regularly, he seemed to think I was not eating because I was depressed, and like you say it was the complete opposite. This could be possibly due more to the male suffering from an eating disorder being quite unheard of by Doctors back then.

    I was also prescribed anti-psychotics by the peak of it to try and halt my really quite dangerous behaviour, which did little but zombie me to the world.

    It took a very long time until I was given talking treatments, and they were the mainstay and really what made things switch and made me better. Something no pill would ever had done for me! Nick x

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