Experiences of antidepressants

Antidepressants - Patient Information Leaflets

All medicines come with a patient information leaflet that gives details about the medicine including: what it is prescribed for, how to take it, possible side effects, and when not to take it. In our interviews people said they usually read the leaflet; often it was of limited use and they sought information from other places as well (see also ‘Finding out more information about antidepressant medicines’). Clare has taken antidepressants on and off for most of her life and feels that patient information sheets are more informative than in the past. 
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It can be useful to read through the sheet before starting a new medicine. Reading the leaflet at home after collecting the prescription can help people feel more prepared about what to expect. They may use it to help them decide about starting to take a new medicine, to learn about possible side effects, or find out how the medicine interacts with other tablets they are taking, or with certain foods or alcohol. Reading the leaflet may also prompt people to ask the doctor for more information. Sonia (below) said the information sheet had told her things that she thought her doctor should have told her about. Not everyone wants to know a lot of details about their medicines. Steve commented - ‘I’m not a details kind of person I’m not focused on the drug I’m taking, I’m focused on how I’m feeling’. 
People react differently and not everyone experiences side effects. The information leaflet contains a lot of information about possible side effects and some people find it worrying to read. As Catherine commented ‘there’s this long, long list of [side effects] you know, and they have to legally put that and you read and you think oh my God, [laughs] you know, what’s going to happen?’ Sometimes after reading the list of side effects people decide not to take the medicine. 
It can be reassuring to have a list of potential side effects to refer to. When Sharon began having vivid dreams soon after starting taking a new antidepressant she used the leaflet to check if it could be an effect of the medicine. ‘It was on the leaflet so I wasn't too worried’. But Stephen said seeing the listed side effects could make you think you had them ‘Oh, have I got that... or will I get that one?’
Some people thought it would be more useful if the leaflet gave more information such as how effective the medicine was, and about how they could deal with side effects. 
It can sometimes be difficult for people to decide whether to adhere to the advice given in the leaflet, for example about drinking alcohol. The guidance is that it’s safest to avoid drinking alcohol because some antidepressants can interact with it, but some people said they had ignored the advice because they wanted to continue to socialise with friends. While no-one we talked to had had a severe reaction to drinking alcohol while taking an antidepressant it’s quite common for the effects of alcohol to be exaggerated (see also ‘Antidepressants: telling family and friends’). 
Collette had experienced severe side effects when she stopped taking her antidepressant. Although these were listed on the information sheet, her GP said he didn’t know about them because they were not listed in the medical guide used by doctors (British National Formulary). She made an official report of her side effects using the ‘yellow card’ scheme. This is the system that allows people to report a suspected adverse drug reaction (ADR) or a side effect from a medicine or vaccine. 

Last reviewed June 2016.


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