Tag Archives: antidepressants

Stigma and sitting with fear

Last month, I published and shared a post on my social media channels about using antidepressants to manage SAD and touched on the stigma I felt about them. It really seemed to resonate. So much so, that it had over 900 views. I received around 100 comments and private messages from friends, family, colleagues and even people I didn’t know. This response was completely unexpected – so humbling and overwhelming.

I felt such a wall of love and acceptance around me and over a month later I’m still feeling bowled over by it. Thank you so much if you’re reading this and you were one of the people who reached out to me. I’m not able to do justice to describing how much it meant to me.

So, what did we learn about stigma from this experience?

The first thing that became clear to me and hopefully to everyone else, is that the world doesn’t come crashing down around you if you share your experience of depression, anxiety, SAD, burnout, adrenal fatigue, mental/nervous breakdown… or any other common type of mental ill health.

I hope that if you saw the Facebook post you took strength and inspiration from the wonderful people who commented. You should be able to click on the comments icon after the post to read them:

I had a huge ‘vulnerability hangover’ after sharing this post and I wanted to delete it. How glad am I that I sat with that uncertainty and fear now though?! 🙂 If I hadn’t, we wouldn’t have seen the level of support that people can show when we allow ourselves to be known.

Is stigma a misunderstood term?

Interestingly, some of the conversations highlighted people’s different understandings of what stigma is. It made me wonder whether we have different interpretations of how much of a problem stigma is because of these discrepancies.

In its dictionary definition, it sounds very severe: “A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” (Oxford Dictionary)

For me, it isn’t just about an obvious ‘mark’ that would indicate something about a person, that you could perceive from the outside. And it might not always feel like full-blown ‘disgrace’; it can also be disapproval or contempt. I believe that is still stigma.

Anything that incites shame around a condition, circumstance, character or behaviour, I would call stigmatising.

I’m really interested in hearing in the comments what you consider stigma to mean, if you feel able to share?

Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes…

This commonly-quoted Indian-American proverb of unknown origin is as wise and relevant today as it has ever been. When we look at what is happening in the world, we see so much suffering that stems from judging others.

Most mental health stigma seems to come from lack of knowledge. It’s okay for us not to know what we don’t know! But the distinction is that it’s not okay to negatively judge and criticise what we don’t know – that’s what makes it stigma.

Often, we can hold opinions about something that are not our own. We can soak up the general feeling and opinions about a topic like a sponge. Children in particular are primed to learn from others in this way. We can teach them well or poorly.

If you hear enough people criticising antidepressant users, for example, you can shame someone for taking them, without knowing anything about them.

The majority of people we know would consider themselves to be non-judgemental, I’m sure. If they say something out of lack of understanding we forgive them, when they respond in an open way as we have a conversation with them about the topic.

The need for empathy

Sadly, as is so often the case in life, our memories are coloured disproportionately by the minority. Those individuals and experiences that leave you feeling raw and vulnerable. Our primitive brain makes us protect ourselves from further harm by magnifying and making us feel fear.

I have an example to share with you from my own personal experience from a few years back. Talking about my experience of SAD one day to my team, my colleague interrupted me and said, “don’t be ridiculous; you can’t get depression because of the weather!” At first, I thought maybe what sounded like contempt was meant to be a joke. Her first language wasn’t English, so I understood that sometimes this can happen.

However, as the conversation progressed it quickly became obvious that the contempt and attempt to shame me was deliberate. She couldn’t empathise and refused to listen to my explanation, believing she was right and she knew more about depression than I did. The real kicker was that some time later she started to complain that she felt that the weather was making her tired and getting her down, while asking for my advice about a dawn simulator. Had she been able to empathise earlier she might have been able to recognise and head off her symptoms before they started to affect her.

Little Light Room - less stigma more love

Opening up…

The memory of this experience and others like it is what bubbled up in me as I was sharing my post last month. The irrational thoughts of ‘what if people think I’m weak or just being self-indulgent?’ and ‘will this damage my professional profile – what will my colleagues and clients think of me?’ were very loud and insistent!

So why did I not only publish the post, but share it publicly on my social media channels? Well, I feel passionately about the topic of improving mental health and our need to overcome stigma as a major barrier to this. But I felt like a fraud because I was still hiding the extent of my experience myself. I genuinely want to help people understand and feel understood, but fear was holding me back.

The reality is that most people are able to empathise, if we are brave enough to face down our fear of being judged and share. Only by more people being more open will we be able to overcome stigma. This isn’t easy for any of us and we must do it only when it’s right for us.

The reward has been that I felt more love and acceptance than I could ever have imagined when I shared. I hope one day we’ll talk as openly about our mental health as we do about having a common cold.

How can I manage SAD symptoms? Part Three – medication and talking therapies

This is part three of ‘How can I manage SAD symptoms?’, where we take a look at medication and talking therapies.

Part one covered bright light therapy, which is delivered via a SAD light and is highly recommended for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Winter Blues. Part two covered dawn simulators and investing in light therapy. In the fourth part I’ll cover some lifestyle factors and share a couple of ideas with you about things you can try to jolly yourself along!

I consider myself to be very fortunate that I’m one of the 85% of people for whom light therapy is effective. But that’s not to say that I don’t use other things to help me manage my symptoms. Or that there’s no hope for you, if you find that light therapy doesn’t help you.

This is the part where I’m going to ask you to bear with me! I’m not a doctor or a therapist. So I’ll point you in the direction of good quality medical information. Please do consult your doctor or a qualified professional about any symptoms you experience.

Medication

I’m aware that some people are very uncomfortable with the idea of taking antidepressant medications. Sadly the stigma that people feel about mental health prevents many from seeking the help they need. I count myself here; I had to really challenge myself to accept taking medication – read the real story.

If you have been to see your doctor about symptoms affecting your mental health, then I’d like to say a huge well done to you! It takes a lot of courage to take this first step.

Small, round, white pills coming out of a bottleWhile the ‘first line’ recommendation for SAD and Winter Blues treatment is bright light therapy, your doctor may want you to try an antidepressant medication in addition to, or instead of light therapy. 

Mind’s page on antidepressants is very thorough and accessible and of course, your doctor can also answer any questions you might have too. 

For additional personal perspectives on managing SAD with antidepressants, I would recommend chatting with people on the Lumie Forum. I’ve found that people are very open and honest about their experiences. They’re generally happy to answer questions and share tips too. There is also the facility on the site to send and receive private messages. You can also become a member of the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association (SADA), who offer peer support services by telephone and email.

Some people find that a herbal remedy called St John’s Wort can help with feelings of mild depression and anxiety. Other products in a similar category are 5-HTP, which is a pre-cursor to serotonin production.

Products like ‘Kalms’, ‘Stress-less’ and ‘Bach Rescue Remedy’ aim to help with feelings of stress. These are available in health stores and chemists, and you might find they help. However, a note of caution: herbal remedies can interact with other prescribed and non-prescribed medications, including the contraceptive pill. They won’t be suitable for people with certain conditions, so always check with your doctor.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and other talking therapies

CBT is a commonly used treatment for depressive conditions (including SAD). It has a lot of support in the medical community because it has strong scientific evidence to demonstrate its effectiveness. Some studies have found it to be as effective in treating depression as antidepressants.

Again, I’m going to refer you to a Mind page for more detail, but for now, this is how they define it:

CBT is a form of talking therapy that combines cognitive therapy and behaviour therapy. It focuses on how you think about the things going on in your life – your thoughts, images, beliefs and attitudes (your cognitive processes) – and how this impacts on the way you behave and deal with emotional problems. It then looks at how you can change any negative patterns of thinking or behaviour that may be causing you difficulties. In turn, this can change the way you feel.

Your doctor may offer you CBT through the NHS. This may be delivered face to face, over the telephone or it may be an online course. You can also find private therapists on the It’s Good to Talk website, which is hosted by the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP).

Most services or therapists would have a chat with you before starting the therapy to ensure that CBT is the right approach for you. From this, they may recommend CBT or perhaps a blended CBT and person-centred counselling approach.

There are also some really good self-help resources available which you could use while you’re working with a CBT therapist, or you might want to just try giving it a go yourself. I’ve read and can recommend Overcoming Depression: A Self-help Guide to Using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques by Paul Gilbert and The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns, M.D.

Two people, one with a bike, walking in a park in the sunshine - talking therapiesRemember that as with any therapy, only you can do the work, and you’ll get out what you put in. Sometimes CBT itself is enough to help you. Sometimes you might need to combine it with medication and/or light therapy.

Of course, sometimes it can also help just to talk to other people who live with this condition and understand where you’re coming from. I hope that you might take some comfort from looking around this site, perhaps adding your thoughts and questions. The Lumie Forum is great too. And don’t discount talking to your family, friends and colleagues – they could be a great source of support if you are willing to share with them how you’re feeling and why.

For some less formal coping strategies, head on over to part four – I hope you’re finding this series helpful.

Image credits:
Medication: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/softgel-capsule-1325982
Walking friends: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/friendship-1534626