Anti-depressants have been around for a while. There are a few different kinds, and all of them affect brain function. The most modern set of these drugs are called SSRIs. This stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. Although it’s not entirely clear how they work, (in spite of lots of research) they make a substance called serotonin more available in the brain. This substance (used to help transmit messages in the brain) is one of those substances that make us feel more settled and in control of our lives.

One thing you need to know is that these drugs do not make you “happy”. Common SSRIs are: Citalopram, Paroxetine (Aropax), and Fluoxetine (Prozac).

They are prescribed to people who have been diagnosed (by their GP or Psychiatrist) as severely depressed. Sometimes a Psychologist or Counsellor might be involved in the diagnosis too.  People who are this distressed find it difficult to make decisions for themselves and see no positive future. They are sometimes suicidal. John Kirwan (the rugby great who fronts the Mental Health Foundation ads for Depression) described his experience as very frightening. He kept himself isolated because he thought he was going to hurt other people. Anxiety and panic attacks can occur with Depression too. Often there is a feeling of being out of control.

Anti-depressant medication isn’t the only way to alter the balance of chemicals in our brain. The following list contains proven ways to improve your wellbeing:
•    Exercise – releases endorphins in the brain, which really are the brain’s “happy” chemicals
•    Social contact with supportive family and friends
•    Meditative practices, including abdominal breathing (changes brain waves and lowers heart rate)
•    Setting future goals that are important to you
•    Therapy with a health professional you trust
•    Scheduling pleasurable activities into your day (each day)
•    Challenging negative thinking

If you are considering taking anti-depressants, talk to your GP about setting a time limit for being on them (suitable for your situation) and the right way to wean yourself off them. If you are already taking them, DO NOT EVER suddenly stop taking them as this can cause you to feel much worse.

Having a time limit lets you and your GP know that eventually this low point of your life will be over. While you are getting your prescription, ask your GP for a green prescription at the same time. This is a “prescription for exercise” not drugs, and provides opportunities for you to engage in exercise in your community (sometimes at a subsidised rate if it is at a gym or pool). Getting this at the same time helps remind you that there are things YOU can do to affect your mood.

Another thing to remember is that one size does not fit all – if you try one and it doesn’t work, go back to your GP. They work in slightly different ways so find one that works best for you.
For more information on Depression have a look at www.depression.org.nz  -  John Kirwan fronts this excellent resource for managing Depression and the site is very user friendly.