At 16, Jade Collins should have been out having fun, studying for her exams and looking forward to an exciting future ahead.
Instead she fell into such a state of despair, she struggled to get out of bed in the morning, found herself constantly in tears and worst of all, she did not know where her sadness was coming from.
“It came completely out of the blue,” recalls Jade, now 19, from Scarborough, North Yorks. “There didn’t seem to be any reason for it – my home life was fine, school was really good and my social life was OK. But suddenly I was overtaken by this immense sadness. I didn’t want to eat, I slept for hours, I couldn’t go to school and I cried all the time. So I went to my GP, who put me on antidepressants. But to this day, I don’t think they helped.”
Jade took the drugs for a year before she was offered the counselling she so desperately needed.
“Talking to someone definitely made a difference, and since then I’ve been a lot better. But the waiting list to see a therapist on the NHS is so long, it’s shocking.
“Now I’ve been taught how to manage the illness – it doesn’t ever totally go away but you learn to cope with it over time.”
The fact is, depression can strike any woman at any age. But Eva Cyhlarova, head of research at the Mental Health Foundation charity, says a major reason so many women are on antidepressants is simply because they are so readily available.
“Often, antidepressants are the first thing women get offered by their GPs,” she explains. Even in cases when another option would be better, doctors use it as an easy way out. Yet studies have shown other options are equally effective. And in any case, antidepressants only work for some.”
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) advises doctors against offering antidepressants as the only option.
Talking therapies, exercise, meditation and a change in diet can all be equally effective alternatives, yet these are rarely discussed at an early stage.
A survey of 2,000 adults in England and Wales, commissioned by women’s organisation Platform 51, found that of those on the drugs, 57% were not offered an alternative.
Platform 51’s Director of Policy, Campaigns and Communications, Rebecca Gill, says: “The current guidelines are just not being followed. Women want more checks to make sure medication is right for them, and they want more choice.
“While antidepressants certainly have a role to play, they are much too often readily prescribed as the only remedy.”
For Jan Boden, the drugs she was given as a young mother in her 20s were more of a chemical cosh than an effective treatment for her anguish.
Jan, now 53 and a counsellor, was struggling to cope with a very ill child at the time and asked her GP for help, who then prescribed her antidepressant pills.
“The drugs put me in a different world,” she says. “I was sleepy all the time and they slowed down my thinking process, which stopped me functioning properly.
“In truth all I needed was somebody to talk to. In the end, coming off the pills made me feel even worse than I’d felt before because all they did was temporarily stop the anxiety. I still had to face what I was hiding from. Today counselling is well recognised as a great way to help people, but it’s not readily available unless you’ve got money to pay for it. Sadly, I think this latest statistic merely reflects the lack of proper access to talking therapies. There are individuals who have serious and prolonged depression caused by a chemical imbalance in their brain, but many ordinary women reach a crisis point at some time in their lives where the answer is not always to take a pill. It won’t just make the crisis go away.”
One of the issues that the survey highlighted was the sheer length of time women are left on this type of medication – almost half had been on the pills for at least five years.
Sophie Corlett, director of external relations at the mental health charity Mind, says this is unacceptable and adds it may indicate inadequate training among GPs.
“A quarter of women in this survey have waited over a year for a review while still being on antidepressants,” she argues.
“That is simply wrong, but it does go some way to explaining why these figures are so high – there are lots of people coming on this medication but few coming off.”
But is there a deeper problem here? Eva Cyhlarova claims women today are under more pressure than ever before.
“Women are working but still act as the primary carer for children,” she says. “Then women of a certain age start caring for their parents, too. Society puts more pressure on us to be perfect, but we struggle. Even if younger women tend to manage that, they still get stressed. And as they get older it becomes even more difficult.”
The so-called “sandwich generation” finds itself under enormous strain and though there have been few studies on the subject, it is true that depression is increasing among middle-aged women.
And vitally, in these hard economic times, money worries have been identified as a major cause of mental health issues.
Platform 51’s report shows that debt is both a cause and a consequence of poor psychological health for women.
Over a third of those surveyed had experience of being in the red. Among these, almost half said they had difficulties sleeping as a result, while 40% felt hopeless and almost 10% had felt suicidal. The Citizens Advice Bureau confirms redundancy, mortgage or rent arrears, credit card debt and other money worries can make people feel very desperate.
But is it necessarily a bad thing that more women are getting help for their depression? For some, medication has proven to be a great help.
Mum-of-one Emily Howarth, a catering assistant from Derbyshire, had been suffering for nine months before she eventually sought help from her GP. The medication she is now on has helped to turn her life around.
“Before I was taking medication I was fighting a lot with my partner and I used to cry at least twice a day for no reason,” says Emily, 20.
“Antidepressants have definitely calmed me down and helped me to simply get through the difficult days.
“I’m also seeing a counsellor and I believe doing both things together means the treatments become really effective.
“But if I had not started taking the pills when I did, I have absolutely no idea where I would be right now – probably in a ditch or locked up in some prison.”
Some experts say that the rise in prescribing antidepressants simply reflects a more aware and open society, one that’s more willing to identify and tackle important mental health issues.
And with more and more celebrities now willing to talk about their own struggle with psychological well-being, it seems that suffering from depression is no longer a shameful thing to admit.
Source: Daily Mirror
Picture credit: sanja gjenero