Depression looks different for everyone, and it doesn’t always look the way it is presented in movies and on TV. The good news? Antidepressants can help with symptoms. In this Scary Mommy article, Mindpath Health’s Julian Lagoy, MD, discusses symptoms of depression and signs antidepressants could help.
Depression and anxiety don’t always look the way they’re presented in movies and on TV, with someone spending weeks in bed with the shades drawn or experiencing a panic attack every time they leave the house. Mental health struggles can present telltale symptoms, but they’re not a given for everyone, so it really can be difficult to know if you might benefit from professional care.
If you’ve been feeling a bit “off” lately — perhaps not quite like yourself, but you’re still functioning relatively normally — you might not think you “need” treatment or that your symptoms are “bad” enough. Dr. Julian Lagoy, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health, says that there’s no such thing as “not enough” when it comes to caring for your mental health.
Sure, there are times when it might be more obvious, such as when you’re coping with a sudden loss (either a friendship or relationship, a job, or the death of a loved one) or a big life change, such as a move, illness, or injury. But these acute circumstances aren’t necessary for you to benefit from mental health care, says Lagoy.
Mental health care 101
The gold standard for treating anxiety and depression is through a combination of talk therapy and medication, notes research out of Harvard Medical School. But let’s be real: Not everyone has time to devote to regular therapy sessions, and therapy isn’t always financially accessible to those who need it most. In those cases, medication might just be the ticket to feeling better — though it’s worth noting that it’s rarely a quick or easy fix. More on that in a minute.
According to the Mayo Clinic, antidepressants can relieve symptoms of anxiety and/or depression by targeting specific neurotransmitters in the brain (aka chemical messengers) that impact mood and behavior, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. There are also atypical antidepressants that work slightly differently, and options to augment first-line meds should you need additional support.
Most of these meds take several weeks before you begin to feel relief, and plenty come with side effects. But the prospect of side effects shouldn’t scare you away from trying medication; your doctor can and should work with you to choose the best medication for your specific needs, starting on a low dose and titrating up slowly as you monitor your symptoms.
Signs an antidepressant might be right for you
“Generally speaking, if somebody is having significant negative effects from their mental health that is affecting their day-to-day life in their work, with their families, or loved ones, then they should definitely consider seeing a psychiatrist to get medication,” says Lagoy.
Lagoy notes that there are a lot of lesser-known or more subtle signs that something’s amiss. Some subtle signs and symptoms include:
- Aches and pains that might feel random, such as backaches or headaches that come on for seemingly no reason
- Appetite or weight changes (which can happen slowly over time, making them less noticeable)
- Being less optimistic
- Changes in sleep habits (such as trouble sleeping through the night, trouble staying awake during the day, or mental or physical fatigue)
- Feeling frequently short-fused (suddenly snapping at those around you or an inability to let things go)
- Having trouble concentrating
- Low energy
- Negative thinking or self-talk
These could all be signs you’re struggling with something deeper, explains Lagoy, pointing out that shifts in your typical persona can serve as hints you may need to seek professional advice. Perhaps you’re struggling to make even small decisions — if you’re snapping at your spouse when they ask what takeout you’d like to order, it might be a sign that you need some support.
Conversely, keeping yourself unsustainably busy with work, family, or social commitments could be a sign that you’re avoiding facing feelings of sadness or anguish, as research has shown. If you’re constantly chasing perfectionism or feeling frequent guilt, any form of perceived self-failure could set off strong negative feelings that are hard to shake, even though the hard truth is that not a single person on this planet is perfect, and we all make mistakes big and small every single day of our lives.
Whether you’re on medication for a short time to help you get through a particularly rough patch or stay on them for the foreseeable future, there’s absolutely no shame in getting the help you need and trying many options to see what works best. You deserve to feel better, and support is available in many forms to help you get there.