Why do people resist taking antidepressants?

Patient Expert

Over the years, since I started my depression site, I've heard (read) many people say that they want to treat their depression "but without antidepressants." I always think, "Why?" It's just incomprehensible to me that some people have that knee-jerk reaction to medication.

Oddly enough, I have to include myself in this group. At least initially, I refused to take medication for my depression. Nearly twenty years ago, when I was first diagnosed with depression, I was in a pretty bad way. I had had two major depressive episodes in the past, without knowing what they were, but this third one was the worst, and so far, of the longest duration. By chance I read a book that helped me to recognize that what I was going through, and I promptly made an appointment with a doctor at the mental health clinic attached to the local hospital.

I was unutterably relieved when he gave me my diagnosis of major depression. Putting a name to what was wrong with me made it into a medical condition, one that presumably could be treated. But I wasn't so receptive to what he said next. "I want to put you on antidepressants." "No, I don't want to take medicine. Can I just try therapy first?" He and the therapist, who was also in the room, looked doubtful but agreed.

I'm not sure what was at the root of my refusal. From the perspective of many years and all I've learned about depression, it's somewhat inconceivable to me that I wasn't willing to try medication. The only reason that makes any sense at all has to do with my being prescribed medication for "migraine equivalent" headaches when I was a teenager. That particular diagnosis meant that the doctor didn't know what was causing the horrendous headaches that went on all day. Now I suspect that, since they eventually went away on their own and have never returned, they might have been caused by a fluctuation in hormones. Since I was up to about twelve aspirin a day, it was decided that I should take a sedative called SpaceTabs daily. I didn't mind at first, since the medication did keep the headaches away, but eventually I cut the amount per day down the half and then a quarter (kids, don't try this at home). At some point when I was in college, I stopped taking them altogether.

I didn't like the effect they had on me. The name was apt, because they did make me spacey. I felt less connected to what was going on around me. It's possible that when the psychiatrist mentioned antidepressants, I may have assumed that it would make me feel the same way. So that is one possible explanation for why I resisted taking antidepressants for six months.

I faithfully went to therapy twice a week for six months, but finally had to acknowledge that my depression was not getting better, but worse. While the therapy was, and has been since then, very helpful for unraveling a lot of the issues that probably contributed to my depression, it was almost impossible for me to participate fully in it. I was so depressed that my cognitive abilities and even my speech were slowed down.

So my desperation overcame my resistance to medication, and I am eternally glad that I took that step. If you're resistant to taking antidepressants, make sure that you have a reason, and that you've examined that reason for flaws in your logic before rejecting it outright. I wish I had, because that was a miserable six months that I went through when I didn't have to.