There's a certain reaction that many people taking antidepressants fear: "I could never be dependent on a drug like that." Even worse: "Aren't you worried that they’ll change you?"
In the 30 years since antidepressants first hit the mainstream market, they've been popularized and de-stigmatized to an increasing degree. Now, one in 10 Americans takes an antidepressant, according to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research.
However, antidepressants are a life-altering — and in some cases, life-saving — component of mental-health treatment for those who take them. To illustrate this, Revelist asked seven women to submit photos of themselves from before and after they started taking antidepressants, and tell us how their lives have changed.
Sara Weber starting taking antidepressants this year, after moving to a new city alone.
In the months leading up to her move to Washington, DC, Weber felt a deep sadness and insecurity that she had ever experienced. She loved her new job and performed well, but she struggled to mask feelings of anger, sadness, and panic. It became difficult to socialize, eat, sleep, or even ride public transportation. So Weber asked her doctor about antidepressants.
"I was scared I would turn into a zombie, or undergo some radical personality change but, in reality, it made it easier to be myself," she told Revelist.
After starting antidepressants, Weber decided to take a solo road trip — something she'd always dreamed of doing. Her "before" picture shows her putting on a happy face to hide her panic at work. Her "after" picture captures her genuine glee during her dream road trip.
"Therapy and antidepressants made that possible," Weber said. "They both helped me find parts of my personality that had become shrouded in an emotional haze I was no longer capable of controlling."
Several others reported that antidepressants helped them rediscover themselves.
Rosemary Donahue started taking antidepressants after her depression made it difficult for her to perform ordinary tasks. In her "before" photo, Donahue said getting out of bed to brush her teeth felt like a chore.
"I felt like I was moving through Jello," she told Revelist.
Donahue resisted taking antidepressants at first, but she quickly realized the difference they made in her mindset:
I stopped shaming myself for my own chemistry and asked for the help I needed, and slowly but surely, after starting medication, things began to get a bit easier. I'm still the same person I always was and the experience ebbs and flows with my mental health, but things aren't as sharp as they used to be, and simple, everyday things are easier now.
Antidepressants may help a person cope with depression, but they don't completely cure every person's problems.
Molly Rodgers starting taking antidepressants after a family tragedy plunged her into a deep depression last year. The medication didn't erase the pain, but a combination of medication and therapy helped her "[tread] water emotionally, rather than completely drowning."
"Medication has helped me focus on my goals, not just my fears and grievances," she told Revelist. "Yet it still has not served as a solution to all of my problems. I have put work into myself and I have had the help of my loved ones, but medication has made a great difference in my life."
Taking antidepressants also requires some degree of experimentation.
When Eve Kenneally started taking Zoloft in 2012, it took her months to admit that the new drug just wasn't working. She eventually switched to Prozac, which made a huge difference. Or as she put it, "It seemed like something in my brain had finally subsided."
These days, however, Prozac isn't working that well either. After a rough summer, and a move back into her parents' house, some of Kenneally's old feelings of depression and anxiety have returned. But Kenneally said she will use this as just another chance to experiment and improve:
Figuring out how to make peace with your brain and its imbalances can take years of careful trial-and-error and constant maintenance. It takes an unfathomable amount of patience. To be clear, I've never once doubted my decision to go on antidepressants. Finding something that helped to create quiet and still spaces in my brain — however temporary they might have been — is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.
For some, the benefits of antidepressants extend beyond just lifting depression.
In fact, according to one study, almost half of all antidepressants users take them for something other than depression. Mel Stanger, for example, used Prozac to aid in her eating-disorder recovery.
"I started on antidepressants when I was 12 years old and went off them at 24 because I thought I was doing well — and I was, but I had also been struggling with an eating disorder for the last five years," she told Revelist. Going off the Prozac exacerbated the eating disorder even further.
It wasn't until Stanger went back on Prozac — and enlisted the help of a therapist, nutritionist, and internist — that she really started to recover.
“Sometimes you just need a little chemical help, and that’s OK,” she added.
Cristy Dodson, meanwhile, takes her antidepressant to help her cope with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
OCD sufferers often experience uncontrollable, recurring thoughts, leading them to carry out unnecessary, repetitive tasks. Dodson told Revelist her days were consumed with counting, washing her hands until they bled, and tracing over and over her writing until her hands ached.
But being prescribed Celexa allowed Dodson more freedom in her thoughts, and said her mind is now free to focus on other things, like school or friends.
"I have a better life because of the choice I made to take medication, to ignore the stigma, and do what was best for me," she told Revelist. "Antidepressants have not made me weak; they have made me strong."
The stigma, however, still prevents some patients from ever trying antidepressants.
Ali Cassidy told Revelist she resisted taking antidepressants because she didn't want to think she "needed" medication to help her. However, the decision to do so changed her life.
"My antidepressants didn't 'cure' my depression or make it go away, but they made it possible for me to handle things that used to derail me, and I am forever grateful for that."
Now, she wants others to know they shouldn't be afraid of medication either:
The stigma of taking antidepressants can be so harmful, and turn so many people away from seeking the treatment they deserve, but there is no shame in accepting help along the way. Taking medication has helped me learn to extend kindness and patience to myself in my mental-health journey.
Like any medication, of course, antidepressants come with risks.
They can cause physical symptoms, like headaches, upset stomach, and even reduced blood clotting. They can also affect sex drive, and can have serious ramifications if discontinued improperly. They should never be taken (or stopped) without the prescription and support of a licensed psychiatrist.
But for many women, the benefits of antidepressants are well worth the risk. And for that, no one should feel ashamed.