Sunday 22 September 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly on anti-depressants: Sometimes we must shout 'the drugs do work'

Powerful: Comedian Al Porter has admitted to taking anti-depressants
Powerful: Comedian Al Porter has admitted to taking anti-depressants

Al Porter is amazing. Simple as that. Not only is he funny, he is clever, empathic, kind and wise for his years.

And he has done something very powerful for people suffering from mental health issues.

He has come out and said I take anti-depressants. I needed them. They've made me better. Here they are - this little pill that I carry in my pocket. That I am afraid to admit I need. That I travelled to Carlow from Tallaght to talk to a doctor about. That I send other people to collect from the chemist for me. Because I've felt ashamed I've needed them. Because I didn't want to be defined by them. Because I was scared people would view me differently so I didn't even tell my mam.

I was sitting beside him on Brendan O'Connor's Cutting Edge at the time he said it.

I saw his hands shake. I was afraid for him as he started to speak in case it was too much for him.

But he stayed strong.

He blew me away.

And it was an incredibly powerful thing for him to say - not only for those countless people who identify closely with it and will have felt better about themselves to hear him say it.

But also for himself.

Al has faced publicly what he was afraid of and so has taken away the power it had over him.

I think most people are rightly in complete admiration of him.

I know I am.

Because talking about antidepressants is still taboo in mental health.

It's largely OK now, to admit to struggling with your feelings. To say you've had issues. To talk about going to counselling or embracing exercise or whatever, as a form of therapy.

But antidepressants - medication - for depression or anxiety are still viewed with mistrust.

There is the notion that you must be sicker, more profoundly depressed to need them.

There is the persistent idea that you have somehow given in and given up the good fight against your illness if you take them.

And that simply isn't true.

I've often seen people who are severely depressed and who would benefit from medication, refuse it. Simply because of the type of medication that it is.

They'd take an antibiotic for an infection but not an antidepressant for their mood.

It's like struggling with depression is not what defines you being depressed but taking a tablet somehow is.

I rarely mention them in articles or interviews except obliquely maybe at the end of what I'm saying despite the fact that I have had countless patients benefit from them - far more than have had negative effects or no effects from them.

Because I, like most doctors, prefer patients to not need drugs but also because any time I have said something positive about them in the past it's often been poorly received.

But I do my patients and others a disservice by not talking about them.

They are needed for some people. They are game-changing, sometimes life-saving drugs.

And doctors like me need to become more forthright.

We need to stop being afraid to say a vaccine is safe or a drug is beneficial just because there is angry noise out there to the contrary.

In this post-truth world we need to still speak in facts even if what we have to say is unpopular.

I got a text after the Cutting Edge programme was aired last week from a pal with mental health issues who is also on medication.

He thought Al was great too but as he said it's all very well saying that stuff when you work in the media.

He has an office job.

For him to speak about having depression would result in discrimination and career difficulties.

Those of us who have the power to speak also have the responsibility.

Being on antidepressants doesn't define you - but sometimes untreated depression does.


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