Letter to Editor: Mental health-keep taking the tablets

Health / Thu 21st Jul 2022 at 03:00pm

Dear Editor,

IN the last 24 hours the media has been flooded with headlines like “Little evidence that chemical imbalance causes depression” following a review, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, concluded there was “no clear evidence” that low serotonin levels are responsible for depression. Senior professionals are consequently calling into question the widespread use of antidepressants prescribed by GPs.

Buried in the detail, or offered up as an aside, is the recommendation from organisations such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists, that “Antidepressants are an effective, NICE-recommended treatment for depression that can also be prescribed for a range of physical and mental health conditions. We would not recommend for anyone to stop taking their antidepressants based on this review, and encourage anyone with concerns about their medication to contact their GP.” This is really important advice. People taking antidepressants should never simply stop without consulting their GP.

The current debate also shines a light on evidence that suggests that prescriptions for antidepressants have risen dramatically over the last 30 years, with one in six adults and 2% of teenagers in England now being prescribed them. I do not dispute that, but I would like to suggest that, despite the lack of evidence that low serotonin levels are responsible for depression, for a significant number of people, antidepressants allow them to maintain a healthy and balanced state of mental wellbeing.

For the last six years, I have been taking Venlafaxine daily. This medication is from of a group of antidepressants called serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors, or SNRIs. The medication was prescribed for me in response to periodic bouts of depression and anxiety. As is often the case, my GP had tried me on a number of different antidepressants, before finding this one to be most effective. For some years, the medication was prescribed in response to a debilitating bout of depression until it was over. This involved having to give the medication time to take effect and then slowly reducing the dosage to come off it. I am now fortunate enough to take it on a preventative basis and it works for me. I emphasis – “It works for me”. Antidepressants do not work for everyone and there are varieties of other ways to support people with mental health challenges.

The important thing is that people seek advice – there is absolutely not a one-size-fits-all solution – and by my experience most GPs, social prescribers, and mental health charities are quick to draw attention to and to recommend alternatives to medication such as self-help, exercise, talking therapies, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and counselling.  The reality is though, that whilst people can acquire the skills and tools to improve their own mental wellbeing, they need the initial support from professionals and invariably that leads to a waiting list. If you feel that your need for support is immediate, the words “waiting list” can fill you with dread, and it is sometime the case that individuals’ wellbeing can deteriorate whilst they are waiting.

Seek support, advice and guidance – it exists. 

Speak to your GP, speak to a reliable mental health charity such as Mind in West Essex.

Do not ask Dr Google! There is a lot of tosh on the world wide web and the wrong advice can be really counterproductive.

And if you’re taking regular medication for any health condition “Keep taking the tablets!” – until your doctor tells you otherwise.

Stay well!

Ian Beckett

Spencers Croft, Harlow

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4 Comments for Letter to Editor: Mental health-keep taking the tablets:

2022-07-21 18:41:24

Well said.

2022-07-22 05:14:37

MIND in West Essex are useless. I turned up to one of their groups. There was one person there, the staff member was outside having a cigarette, another staff member was on a lap top, a few people were playing pool. I was ignored by everyone so after 5 min I went home. The previous day I had spoken to someone who filled in a form - so they got their £ for having supposedly 'helped' someone.

David Forman
2022-07-22 08:47:24

Two physical health conditions play a part in depression: disorders of the thyroid gland and diabetes. Make sure your doctor tests for these issues before prescribing anti-depressants. My life was ruined for 10 years because underlying hyperthyroidism and diabetes were not diagnosed.

2022-07-24 06:44:34

I agree that there isn't a one size fits all for mental health. I also concur with Gabby that mind, and several other of the mental health trusts are unfit for purpose. Simply there to register you to get a cut of funding but when you actually want help they cannot help you and discharge you. Often in an even more venerable state. On at least 4 occasions this happened to me in Harlow. The doctor was only interested in offering antidepressants and sleeping tablets with no interest in any talking therapy to get to the root cause. In my view antidepressants simply mask the root issue which is never addressed. I have now been seeing a private company to talk through my issues and unravel my past as the root cause. In a way I'm happy I am paying for a private service as it's the first time in a mental health setting where I have actually felt valued and not simply a burden or a cash tank. Public bodies who say they support and provide mental health services in my experience offer no value or solution for those actually suffering with mental health and the system is unfit and incorrectly funded for purpose. As it's not understood and not something physical you can see its hard to physically see you getting better and these trusts exploit that. I cannot tell you how many times I was told to call 111 option 2 (crisis line, who again don't want to speak to you unless your about to toss yourself off a multistory car park) or speak to my GP when asking for help from local mental health trusts when I explained my situation and them being non willing to assist.

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