Alternatives to anti-depressants

Being a parent can be a tough, lonely time, with many mothers becoming depressed and seeking medical help. But before you make the decision to go on anti-depressants, let us help you explore your options further

In our hi-tech world, we are encouraged to find solutions for problems – and indeed, why not. But some mums find antidepressants work only as a short-term measure, and wonder what else there is to help them. There are three equally effective alternatives.

Last year there were 34 million prescriptions for anti-depressants in the UK, a 10 per cent increase from 2006. Recent research found that placebo tablets, exercise and talking to a friend were as effective at anti-depressants.

Depression affects one-third of the population at some time in their life and it can be quite daunting, with different symptoms and causes. Post-natal depression and bi-polar (manic depression) are different in character to the general depression discussed here and require specialist help immediately.

But are you actually depressed?

Depression has become a blanket phrase which inaccurately covers all unhappiness. Anti-depressants certainly won’t work if depression is not the real problem.

Hormonal imbalances, tiredness, a dramatic change in lifestyle and the trauma of giving birth all take their toll. Many of us have grown up not knowing much pain or distress and are shocked when it comes along.

Being exhausted, feeling miserable, disappointed or angry are normal feelings. There is a tendancy today to think everything must be positive – and if it isn’t then something, somewhere can be bought to make it right. But sometimes we need to confront the negative side of life – and the outcome can be surprisingly good.

Yes, it can be miserable to feel trapped in the house with a new baby or a sick child. You may well feel angry, low or isolated for no apparent reason. If you are brave enough to explore the feeling then you have the option to change some aspect of your life – but it usually takes time, courage and patience. Some people choose to undertake counselling to make such a journey.

What is the difference between feeling bad and feeling depressed?

Feeling bad means experiencing sadness, anger, fear, tiredness or any other upset. Sometimes being able to concentrate on that feeling will give you the answers about what to do next.

Feeling depressed is quite another matter. There are usually no feelings or emotions and the person becomes inaccessible to those around. One psychologist refers to it as being in a prison without windows or doors. Sometimes depression is referred to as ‘anger turned inwards’. Accessing the anger, with appropriate help, can be empowering.

What are the signs of depression?

  • a dramatic change in eating or sleeping patterns
  • the ‘self’ disappears along with interest in things and people
  • tearfulness for days on end
  • memory loss and loss of concentration
  • suicidal thoughts

Depression is usually a mixture of genetic make-up and events. It can run in families, and may have a behavioural pattern. It has historically had a stigma which made people secretive and ashamed of their condition, which lowers self-confidence even further.

Are there any alternatives to antidepressants?

For clinical depression the correct antidepressants can offer a new lease of life, but it is unlikely they will have any effect on the unhappy or distressed. Antidepressants can have side effects which may outweigh the benefits. Being unhappy needs to be explored, with skilled support of a Counsellor if necessary.

Exercise, which encourages production of endorphins in the brain, can be highly effective in treating depression and will lift most low moods. Exercise with small children is not always easy, but a small trampoline, skipping ropes, exercise DVDs or push-chair jogging all work.

Talking to someone with a mature perspective can help, and counselling can guide a person to find more insight and inner resources. In more severe cases counselling can be undertaken alongside medication.

Which is the right path for me?

A bit of common sense and some sensible research can help you to choose which path is best for you.

If in doubt talk to your GP or health visitor, or visit websites to find out more. Don’t stick your head in the sand or rely on a prescription, particularly if it disagrees with you. Dealing with your unhappiness or depression may be the beginning of a rewarding journey of self-discovery

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