Depression and anxiety are the most common forms of mental distress in the UK. Because these conditions impact so much on the lives of sufferers and their families, it is understandable that many people seek a quick fix that will get them back to normal as quickly as possible. Antidepressants seem to offer this possibility; however, recent research shows that antidepressants may not be as effective as previously thought, especially in cases of mild depression. The Royal College of Psychiatry estimates that between 50% and 65% of people treated with an antidepressant for depression will benefit. Furthermore, according to a Canadian researcher, Dr Paul Andrews, individuals who take antidepressants can be nearly twice as susceptible to future episodes of major depression than those who don't.
Is There a Positive Side to Depression?
As a society, we are inclined to think of negative emotions as being in some way bad or harmful. When we're not happy, we're often treated as if we're ill and should either just snap out of it or take drugs to somehow fix it. Anyone who has been depressed will know that getting better is not as simple as just flicking a switch.
Dr Andrews, an evolutionary psychologist, believes that the symptoms of depression, such as tiredness, low appetite and loss of interest in engaging with people, may be survival techniques for coping with stress; our bodies are simply forcing us to avoid more stress to give us a chance to resolve the problems we're facing. When we take drugs to relieve the symptoms of depression, we may be interfering with our natural propensity to learn and grow through facing life's problems. There is no quick fix that enables us to fulfil our true potential as human beings.
The benefits of counselling
Counselling can help you to gain insight into the causes of your depression, which can help minimise the chance of relapse. In counselling, you can talk about the thoughts and feelings you are most ashamed of, in a confidential space, without fear of being judged. As you experience your therapist's non-judgmental attitude, you gradually become more accepting and compassionate towards yourself, and learn new ways of thinking, more effective coping mechanisms and improved problem-solving skills.
Counselling is not a quick fix, but if you are willing to commit to engaging with the process for as long as it takes, you will gain insights and tools which will help you to handle emotions and approach life's difficulties in more constructive ways.
Antidepressants may have their place in relieving the symptoms of depression, but the evidence seems to suggest that they should not be seen as a solution in themselves.
These video clips from the American Psychological Association illustrate the point nicely.
Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he'll eat for a lifetime.