SSRI’s – my own challenging experience

blister packs of pills

I’m not sure that I’m brave enough to watch the Panorama about antidepressants tonight. I know that many have found antidepressants really helpful. I don’t want to stigmatise the taking of medication.

But I do want to question our assumption that they are always OK for people.

My own experience with antidepressants was really not good. It’s only antidepressant meds – for me the SSRI sertraline – that have triggered mania for me.

I went to the GP to explain that something had gone wrong on the medication. I was persuaded to stay on the medication, because I was told that if I suddenly came off it, there was a high risk of suicide – that the symptoms I was experiencing were just ‘depression coming out’. I cried, I argued, I described the medication as being like poison. But he made me promise to continue taking the medication, because it would be safer for me. The GP was wrong, but his advice scared me enough to stay on the medication.

I took the SSRI for a further 5 days from that GP appointment, due to his advice (which for me meant the mania escalated, until it also featured psychosis too – induced by the SSRI – which is why I was eventually sectioned in psychiatric hospital.)

The stigma, misunderstanding and ignorance that has ensued for me, because of my experience of antidepressant side effects, and then the bizarre follow on medications / psychiatric hospital, and then the unexpected bipolar diagnosis (just because of how I react to antidepressants) has been really difficult to live with. I’m still living in the wake of that. I nearly lost my livelihood as a result.

As a result of that one reaction to antidepressant medications in 2016, I still live with a medical driving license that needs to be renewed every few years. I fall into a category where the local health authority want me to go through a severe mental illness review each year. I’m assumed to not be self-aware, some doctors assume me to be non-compliant (because I don’t want to take further mental health medications, unless I really really really need to…) because my own experience of side effects has been horrendous.

When I argued to come off the antipsychotic mood stabilisers that I was put on in psychiatric hospital (to counter the SSRI side effects), again, psychiatrists tried to scare me in to staying on them. I explained the side effects that I got from those drugs (I could only stay awake enough to work 15 hours a week on the ‘therapeutic’ dose.) I was told that everyone said that sort of thing, that I wasn’t self-aware because I had bipolar, that I should be taking these meds for life (due to risk of further manic episode.)

I researched a lot about the medications, and I made the fully informed decision myself to slowly try coming off those medications, with support from the community mental health nurse. I am as well as I am now, because I took that decision.

I’ve had doctors, now they see bipolar on my file, assume that anything I want to speak to them about is really related to mental health.

I had to fight for E to stay within a support system, because CAMHS also wanted to assume that E’s issues were ‘just’ because of my ‘bipolar’.

I have made the most of the unexpected adventures due to my reaction to SSRIs, which ended up in me researching and finding out my neurodivergent nature too.

But honestly, I am angry at the enduring impact on my life of one month of taking SSIs. I’m not sure that I will ever escape from the misunderstandings that flow for me from having taken SSRIs.

I’m particularly angry that most of the paltry amount of research that goes into mental health is primarily about making money from selling drugs around it. Issuing meds involves less time than working with the challenging systems / situations that might be creating the issues (and also continue to emphasise that the issue is a personal ‘failing’ or ‘illness’)

I am glad that they are helpful for many people. I don’t want this post to make anyone think that I am saying that people shouldn’t take mental health medications. For many people, they are really helpful, for some they are saving lives. But I do want to question how ‘benign’ we’ve tried to make them, as if they are a bit like paracetamol. For some of us, our experiences of SSRIs are horrendous – and our stories are often silenced or dismissed.

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