For 24-year-old Samantha*, six months of taking anti-depressants left her feeling completely numb.
While they did stop her feeling suicidal, she said that was because she felt nothing at all.
I was just a blank space, she said. No feelings, no emotions, nothing.
The usually talkative young woman said she couldnt communicate properly and was unable to organise her day-to-day life.
I would pretty much just stare into space, she said. I wouldnt have anything in my head. The drugs pretty much stopped my whole thought process.
Youth counsellor Barbara Schmidt said she was very concerned about a growing trend of teenagers coming to her on anti-depressants many as young as 13.
In my work at Community Connections things tend to come in waves, she said. And six months ago I had a lot of 13-year-olds coming in. And it was very noticeable that a lot of them were on anti-depressants. And it didnt seem to make sense. To administer these drugs when there is only a mild to moderate form of depression is concerning. Were not talking about chemical imbalances in the brain.
Barbara said Samanthas experience with anti-depressants was extreme, but there was always a degree of numbing out.
Depression has become a bit of an in-thing, she said. I think were using the word far too easily. Its normal that theres times when we wont feel well. Its learning how to deal with it. If you are taking medication when you are 14 because you are having a hard time, instead of dealing with the cycles of life by learning, making new experiences and getting through the hard stuff, how are you going to live a fulfilled life later on when it gets even more complex?
Samantha said her depression was caused by a bad break-up and a sexual assault soon after. When she asked her GP about natural, alternative medication, he told her it would take too long to get into her system. Meanwhile, anti-depressants would work straight away.
Samantha said she didnt have a menstrual cycle the entire time she was on the drugs and she even lost control of her bodily functions a side effect she had not been told about. However, her reactions were so dulled it took her a few minutes to realise she had just wet herself.
I had no sex drive, she said. My moods were non-existent. It was like you woke up and there was nothing to look forward to.
Samantha said she felt the drugs were a quick fix which only stopped her from dealing with her problems.
Its like marijuana thats a quick fix too, she said. I know a lot of people who smoke marijuana to avoid dealing with their problems. But it just prolongs dealing with it.
Once Samantha decided to stop taking anti-depressants, her problems were still there. For her, counselling had really worked and luckily she could access it for free because of her age, she said. However for older people the cost could be prohibitive.
Barbara said she wasnt blaming doctors, as there werent a lot of options available to them.
Prescribing drugs is what they do and its covered by Medicare, she said. Counselling isnt. It would be great if it was.
She said Community Connections, which offers the only free counselling service specialising in youth, did have some vacancies. However, she said a large number of people were going to their GPs with depression, and they could not cope with an avalanche of referrals.
It would be great if community workers and GPs could set something up together, she said. I am astounded by the number of young people on these serious drugs and believe its necessary to speak out about such prevalence.
*Not her real name.
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