Patient stories

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The following two stories from the lived experience of individuals experiencing depression illustrate different antidepressant journeys.

Lived Experience 1

I am learning that my experience of psychiatric drug prescribing is not an unusual one.  In May 2013, I suffered a two-week period of insomnia due to work related stress, and visited my GP.  I was prescribed mirtazapine, an antidepressant. Unfortunately I had a bad reaction to the drug; very increased anxiety within one week, and suicidal thinking within two weeks. I was then prescribed antipsychotics and a benzodiazepine. The benzodiazepine helped with the anxiety, but provided short lived relief, and I realised it was possibly an addictive medicine which I then tried to avoid.

The anxiety remained, I had no relief.   I was then prescribed imipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant, and told I should slowly increase the dose over 6 weeks when the relief would begin to be felt. After 6 weeks there was no improvement.  My GP told me that I needed to ‘believe in the antidepressant and then it would work’.  At this point I began to descend into severe depression.

During periods depression, the anxiety would lessen, but as the depression eased the anxiety would return – like two sides of the same coin. With no relief from the drugs, I experienced multiple admissions to  different mental hospitals over a period of months.  First to a mental hospital, where different drug combinations were tried.  Then another where a further ten different psychiatric drugs were tried.  Then finally two admissions to the same hospital, as a precaution to prevent suicide attempts.  During these two admissions I was given 15 courses of Electro Convulsive Treatment (ECT).  These treatments did not work either. There would be a day of hyperactivity and then a plunge back into even deeper depression. I volunteered to stop all ECT treatments.  My Hamilton Depression rating was frequently close to the maximum of 45.  I was very seriously ill, and the psychiatrist at that time diagnosed me as chronic treatment resistant bi-polar depressed, and promptly put me onto lithium. Before long I was having trouble with shaking hands, acute nervous agitation and unbearable anxiety.

Every day was a struggle to survive. My mind was constantly occupied with ways to kill myself and there were many attempts, which very luckily were not successful. Only time spent with the excellent nurses and other patients in the hospital garden eased my suffering and despair.

Eight years later, I am fully recovered.  How did this happen?  I was very lucky to have had  psychotherapists visit me every day, and talking therapy with a psychotherapist in the health centre once a week. These talking sessions kept me alive.   After three and a half years of being prescribed psychiatric drugs all descriptions, my psychiatrist referred me to a brilliant psychologist.   Talking with her helped to keep me alive.

But finally, it was clear to me that the only thing we had not tried was coming off all psychiatric drugs.  My psychiatrist eventually agreed to help me do this.  Within 8 weeks, on a slow reducing dose I was lifted out of depression for the first time in four years. Three months later I was allowed to stop the last drugs.  I have never taken a single pill of any description ever since. While coming off the drugs, I started low sugar, low carbohydrate, high fibre diet with some minerals and vitamins to build up my immune system. I lost 3 stone of weight that had accumulated on the antidepressants, and restored my physical health as well as my mental health.  Before reducing the psychiatric drugs, my wife had enrolled me into an art group.  Although I was severely depressed at the time, the simple act of joining a group of people who enjoyed art had a great positive effect on me; I began to enjoy learning to be better at drawing and painting. I found myself looking back at previous art work and being amazed that I had actually achieved something. My wife also enrolled me in the a volunteers gardening group where I enjoyed meeting others in the public garden where we would do small jobs that gave us all a sense of achievement and belonging. I then joined a choir.   The atmosphere was always friendly and I began, very slowly, to begin to look forward. My mind was slowly shifting from endless rumination towards normal thought processes of linear continuity.  Finally, Tai Chi and weekly walks with the local walking club all helped me to recover full health.

Lived Experience 2

In 2014, my GP prescribed sertraline to help alleviate my anxiety. Following a traumatic experience, and an operation, I was petrified of being left by myself. I was started on 50mg a day which, after an assessment by Psychiatry, was stepped up to 200 mg over the course of four months. At the same time, I attended a six-week group CBT course through Primary Care Mental Health services and started receiving regular counselling.  Concurrently, I was seen and assessed by cardiology, gastroenterology and genetics which ultimately compounded my anxiety and increased the medicine burden to around 20 tablets a day.

Fast forward to August 2021 and I remain on the same daily dose. I am subject to annual medicines reviews by my GP where the question of lowering the dose is discussed.  The first time I panicked, as I hadn’t even considered it, so naturally any adjustment was put on hold.  I have never felt pressurised or been made to feel guilty for ‘failing to cut back’.  I have a supportive GP who understands I have no desire to ever feel the way I did before I started taking antidepressants. I have done behavioural therapy and learned the tools to change my way of thinking, but for me there has always been a huge physical element to my anxiety, they called it ‘Double Anxiety’ at the time. Add to that the physical health problems, additional drugs, and changes in my personal circumstances.  So far, the time has never been right to start cutting back. When the time is right, however, I know I have a GP who is mindful of my reservations and who will let me go at my own pace.