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Should I tell my friends and family that I take antidepressants?

March 27th, 2017 by Stephanie Hall

The amount of people taking antidepressants in the UK has soared in recent years.

According to figures reported in The Guardian, 61 million antidepressants were prescribed and dispensed in 2015, and the number of antidepressants given out to UK residents more than doubled in the decade spanning 2005 to 2015.

But before we sink our teeth into the debate as to whether or not you should be telling your friends and family that you take antidepressants, I just need to make one thing clear: I am not a consultant, a doctor or a therapist.

While I have spoken to a psychologist, a doctor and a pharmacist before compiling this list of suggestions for how and why you might want to tell your friends and family about the medication you’re taking, I won’t be giving you any medical or clinical advice.

Instead, I’ll be discussing the potential benefits of telling your friends and family that you take antidepressants - while also challenging some of the reasons you might have for holding back from telling your loved ones about your medication.

Still with me? Great. Now we’ve established that we’re all here to speak openly as friends, let’s get on to why you might be holding back from telling your family and friends about the fact that you take antidepressants. Then we can think about how you might want to do it. (That is IF you choose to do it).

It’s always helpful to break these kinds of situations down into simple steps.

1) I’m scared to tell my friends and family that I take antidepressants

We all suffer from the paralysing fear of the unknown from time to time (and more so if we have depression or anxiety), but trying to pre-empt your loved one’s reactions to the fact that you are taking antidepressants is pretty high up on the list of stressful things you can do.

You might ask questions like ‘will they treat me differently?’, ‘will they accept me?', or even, ‘will they still love me?’.

Recent campaigns run by organisations like MIND, MQ and Rethink Mental Illness are successfully improving mental health awareness, helping to increase widespread understanding of psychological conditions.

But there are still significant obstacles preventing 71% of us from being able to say ‘I’m Fine’ while meaning it, according to data collected from a survey for the Mental Health Foundation.

One of the main benefits of telling your family or friends (or both) that you take antidepressive medication is that your loved ones are likely to want to educate themselves about your condition and your medication. This, in turn, will help them get to know how they can best support you.

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2) I feel ashamed about taking medication for depression or anxiety

It’s a lot harder to tell someone close to you about something sensitive when you yourself haven’t come to terms with it yet.

There’s so much pressure on us all to act like we’re ‘on top of things’, that we’re ‘enjoying life’ and that we’re ‘appreciating what we have’. Guilt is a common symptom of depression and accompanying low self-esteem can stir up the feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy and hopelessness that are listed as notable symptoms on the website for the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Any doctor or therapist worth their salt will tell you that there is no need to feel any shame in asking for help rather than continuing to struggle through the symptoms of depression and anxiety that can really pull on your mental and physical energy.

It’s important to bear in mind that telling your loved ones about your condition and the medication you’re taking could help to reduce any feelings of anxiety, pressure or fear that you may have.

No, your illness doesn’t sum up who you are as a person, but yes, it is a part of you. Just remember that have no reason to be ashamed of who you are, and neither do your loved ones.

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3) My friends and family will judge me for taking antidepressants

Your family is made up of the people who have raised you, lived with you and loved you for many years. Your circle of friends is also composed of people you have chosen to hang out with over the years, and people who have likewise decided that you’re a pretty cool person too.

Yes, there are still some stigmas surrounding mental health conditions and the medicines used to treat them. But your close friends and family know you and love you for exactly who you are, most likely regardless of whether or not you take medication for your mental health condition.

If your loved ones hold the notion of mental health in low regard or have hostile reactions to mentions of depression, anxiety, or panic disorder, remember that awareness is on the rise, and that you might just need to give those close to you some time to digest the news you’ve chosen to share with them.

If you’re still fearful that your friends and family will judge you for taking antidepressants, you can opt to talk through any worries you may have with the trained professionals manning the phones at Samaritans, MIND and Rethink Mental Illness.

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4) If my antidepressants don’t improve my symptoms, my family and friends might think I’m lying about being depressed or anxious

Not every type of antidepressant works for every person.

Studies have shown that a range of SSRIs and SNRIs, including bupropion, escitalopram and trazodone (to name a few), fail to work for 40% of people.

Finding the right antidepressants to treat your anxiety, depression, OCD or PTSD can take more than one try, and you don’t need to feel any pressure to prove yourself or your diagnosis to anyone.

If you’re concerned that your friends and family might doubt your need to take antidepressants because your medication isn’t clearing up your symptoms, you should probably try explaining to them that there is no ‘quick-fix’ for depression and then present them with the statistic listed above to really support your point.

Though you certainly don’t need to prove yourself to anyone, having a statistic to refer to mid-discussion can really help people understand, and ultimately share, your point of view.  

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5) My antidepressants are my business and I don’t think I need to tell my family and friends about my medication

The aim of this article is to answer the question ‘Should I tell my friends and family that I take antidepressants?’.

The title of the piece presupposes the need for an answer to a question specifically asking for advice.

But if you feel that you don’t want to share the fact that you take antidepressants with anyone just yet (or ever), that is entirely your choice to make.

The only people who need to know about the medication you take are your doctor, GP and maybe your pharmacist. (It’s a good idea to tell your pharmacist about the medicines you are taking before ordering any over the counter medicine or prescribed medication in order to avoid interactions).

However, it’s also good to bear in mind that telling your friends and family about the medication you’re taking can make your life a lot easier. Your loved ones will be more equipped to help you deal with the struggles that come with taking repeat medication once they’re aware you’re taking antidepressants, and will also provide you with a support-network of people with whom you can talk about your condition openly and honestly.

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How do I tell my friends and family that I take antidepressants?

In terms of advice on how best to tell your friends and family that you are taking antidepressants, you might want to keep the following in mind:

  1. Psychologist and self-help writer Susan Jeffers advocated the motto ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. This kind of impulsive tactic might take the anticipation out of your concerns in building up to a ‘confession’ about your medication.

  2. You should be proud of yourself for being responsible and committing yourself to managing your own condition. So if do decide to tell your loved ones about your medication, take your time and try not to rush through. You - and the things you say - are important. Remember that.

  3. Speaking to a trained professional before approaching your loved ones can help to ease any worries you may have. You can use the free advice and counselling services provided by the likes of Samaritans and MIND to discuss anything relating to your mental health, and no one will ever pressure you to tell your friends and family about your medication if that’s not what you want to do.

  4. You and your doctor, the expert, know that you have a mental health condition. If anyone chooses not to believe you, that’s their decision (though they’re basically denying the practices of medicine and psychology that have been backed by extensive research and clinical evidence.) You should try not to let it affect the way you feel about yourself, your condition or your medication.

  5. If you aren’t ready to tell your loved ones about the medications you take, and you’re capable of taking these medications by yourself without assistance, then perhaps you should wait until you’re comfortable discussing all aspects of your health before sharing any specific details about your treatment. Ultimately, the choice to tell your friends and family that you take antidepressants is yours and yours alone.

If you have any queries about your antidepressant medication you should consult your doctor or GP in the first instance.

Alternatively, you can speak about your treatment anonymously with Samaritans or MIND, and you can read a more personal account of the pressures that come with taking antidepressants from Echo’s very own co-founder, Stephen Bourke.


Clinically reviewed by Alistair Murray MRPharmS: 26/3/17

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