Experiences of antidepressants

Other strategies for managing depression

All of the people we spoke to were either currently taking an antidepressant or had taken one in the recent past. Although many felt that antidepressants helped, most believed that it was important to find other ways to help with symptoms of depression; to aid ‘recovery’, or to maintain a sense of wellbeing when they had stopped taking antidepressants. Typically people said it was important to have therapeutic support alongside taking an antidepressant, because taking medicines could relieve symptoms, but did not deal with ‘root causes’ of depression. Not everyone had access to therapeutic support, but some found that talking to friends and family was helpful. Emily makes a conscious effort to talk to others whereas in the past she often hid her feelings. ‘I make myself talk as well… make myself talk to my current boyfriend, and to my friends and my family’. 
Many of the people we spoke to said they had found other ways to help boost or maintain positive mental health as well as taking antidepressants. Simon, who is a GP, advocates that everyone should be attentive to their mental health, regardless of whether they have experienced depression. ‘Even if you’ve never had a mental illness you may not be living a mentally very healthy lifestyle, there’s lots of things that we can do to improve our mental fitness’. Thomas decided antidepressants were not the answer for him, and felt that doctors should be more willing to ‘look at the bigger picture’ of people’s lives. He suggested that rather than prescribe antidepressants so readily, health professionals should spend more time giving people practical support. ‘[They could] write all sorts of letters which will help people get social housing, help get benefits. There are a whole range of things that everyone from a consultant psychiatrist to a CPN to a psychologist to a nurse can do for people that will help them in a practical base. Look at the practical things. That’s what’s going to help them in the longer term’. Gerry felt it could be all too easy to rely on antidepressants to solve things. (See ‘Talking therapies and antidepressants’, ‘Antidepressants: telling family and friends’, ‘Expectations about taking antidepressants’ and Feelings about using an antidepressant). 
Some felt that taking an antidepressant had helped them to start to think more clearly about their lives and to reach a headspace where they could begin to work through problems, but they had also come to recognise the importance of engaging in activities that helped them to feel more positive about life. Thomas disagreed with the traditional ways of thinking about how to treat depression.’ I don’t think it’s a science. I don’t think it’s something that you can treat. It’s not a condition, it’s something which is so tied up with so many other things in your life, your housing, where you live, how many friends you’ve got, that’s really, it something huge, and that has to be treated in a kind a completely kind of individualistic and holistic way’. Some said that their therapist or counsellor had helped them to appreciate the importance of finding ways to help them move forward. Melanie was taking steps to set herself goals, albeit small ones such as walking to the shops, but said when you’re depressed it’s sometimes difficult to motivate yourself. ‘I’ve got the sensibility to know that that’s what I should be doing but at the same time my minds not always, you know, allowing me to do that’. Andrew had begun to think more carefully about his diet. ‘I’ve got a diet sheet and I’m going to try and follow that. And until, until you know quite recently now I would have just felt, nothing could help me, nothing could help me’.
There are numerous strategies that people can adopt that help promote positive mental health. Mind, and other mental health organisations provide lots of advice about different strategies that can help. These include;
  • Building healthy relationships with people – friends, family and work colleagues.
  • Looking after your physical health – sleep, diet and physical exercise.
  • Doing things you enjoy.
  • Doing things for others.
  • Setting yourself a challenge.
  • Learning relaxation techniques.
  • Identifying mood triggers and learning to be self- aware.
  • Looking after yourself during difficult times.
  • Learning to accept yourself.
People we spoke to had discovered a range of activities and strategies that helped including; going to the gym, walking, running, martial arts, talking to friends, family or colleagues, setting themselves challenges, meditation or visualisation techniques, mindfulness, acupuncture, aromatherapy, yoga, reading, writing, keeping a journal or mood diary, joining a book club and volunteering. Some said that they had changed jobs or thrown themselves into work as a distraction from difficult things that were going on in their lives. Andrew took up a new hobby. 
Andrew had also started to be more appreciative of small everyday things that he felt now enhanced his sense of wellbeing. ‘When I walk to and from work I try and make a point of seeing something new and you can do it, you know, it’s astonishing actually what you don’t see and what you do see’. Stuart keeps a mood diary and finds it helps to be able to look back and notice patterns, to see the ‘ups and downs’. 
Taking regular exercise was one of the most popular activities that people said had brought tangible benefits. It doesn’t need to be anything too energetic, some people said it helped just to take a walk to the shops and get some fresh air. Stephen feels that ‘It’s been exercise for me rather than tablets that’s helped’. Emily now takes regular exercise especially when she starts feeling a bit low. ’ I go to the gym a lot regularly, structured and, you know, if I start to feel really down I do something’. Thomas felt it was easier to see the benefits of something like exercise than taking an antidepressant. ‘Gradually seeing the increase yourself in your fitness and being able to see it in the mirror. It’s all completely in your face. Tangible. You can see it in a mirror. Whereas with the antidepressants I saw nothing’. Going to a gym or an exercise class can also provide important social contact with others. As Thomas pointed out ‘It’s an isolating condition. Well most psychiatric diagnoses are, they’re isolating. They make you withdraw from people. So you don’t get the opportunity - really to do what to you need to do, which is to talk to people’. 
Several people had learned not to be too hard on themselves, and to develop greater self-awareness. Lucy Y felt she had learned a lot about herself since her first episode of depression. ‘The biggest change for me in the last few years has been being able to see beyond the end of it, having enough, having enough solid experience of good times to know that, you know, not only will it pass but it will pass and life will be meaningful and joyous and that, that is a possibility at the end of it.’ Catherine described building up a ‘toolbox’ of strategies over time through learning what works and what doesn’t. 
Some people had used their own experiences to help others and felt they had benefited immensely from ‘giving something back’. Both Catherine and Hannah are now involved in producing websites about mental health issues. Thomas has worked as an advocate for people who use mental health services and Stuart gives talks and does voluntary activities to raise money for mental health charities. 

Last reviewed June 2016.
​Last updated June 2016.


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