After the loss of her 16-year-old daughter Jenny to suicide, 60-year-old Jenetta Bary went onto antidepressants for a couple of months. “It left me feeling deadened and woolly-headed,” she says, “as though I had lost the ability to manage myself and that something else had taken over.”
“We don’t really know the long-term consequences of taking the drugs,” says Montagu. “But what we do know is that it isn’t good to take any psychoactive drug, be it alcohol or opioids, over the long term. It can cause the brain to change and adapt.”
Thankfully, I haven’t experienced withdrawal. But in a 2019 study, Dr James Davies of the University of Roehampton’s Psychology department found that around 25 per cent of those taking antidepressants will have a severe withdrawal reaction.
Luckily, other approaches to managing mild depression and anxiety do work, many of which are already prescribed by those GPs and psychiatrists who don’t automatically reach for their prescribing pad.
Multiple studies attest to the efficacy of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), the therapy of choice on the NHS. Given the format of a six-week course, it could end up cheaper for the public purse than longer term use of antidepressants. There is bucket loads of research showing that mindfulness can prove highly effective, though Telegraph columnist and mental health advocate Bryony Gordon is sceptical: “Mindfulness and meditation are excellent tools to maintain mental wellbeing, but they are not solutions for mental illness, even ‘mild’ as said here,” she says.
More holistic methods are emerging. Nutritional psychiatry and the power of food to influence our mood is something I found powerful enough to write about in my book, The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food. Dr Carmine Pariante, professor of psychiatry at King’s College London, has been investigating the effect of omega-3s to help those suffering from mild to moderate depression. I have also found there is much to be said for the healing power of poetry, often as good as any self-help book. Such alternative approaches gave me back a sense of empowerment and agency. I could crack on and look after my psychological health without waiting to see my GP.