Opinion

Anti-depressants and diagnosis: “My doctor said I wasn’t depressed enough for his help”

Charlie Bond writes on her experience with mild depression and anxiety and how it felt to have her call for help disregarded by a doctor. 

I wasn’t surprised by the new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealing that the number of adults in Britain with depression has doubled during the coronavirus pandemic. I mean, it stands to reason that the events of the last few months are going to take their toll on people’s wellbeing.

But, the more I thought about the fact that almost one in four women have reported moderate to severe depressive symptoms during the lockdown, the more I began to wonder how many of these were feeling like this before but only felt like they could admit it once the ‘new normal’ became openly discussing via Zoom how fed up we all are.

For me, that’s definitely the case. I’ve actually been feeling ‘out of sorts’ for a couple of years so I went to my GP when I was struggling to cope. I nervously told him how I’d been feeling, and assumed maybe I’d be referred for counselling or at the very least be given a leaflet to read, but instead, he shrugged and said: “Usually I’d prescribe antidepressants, but you don’t seem depressed enough. A lot of people go through this, but it’ll pass.” 

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I came home feeling utterly deflated and, to be honest, a bit embarrassed. I’d told him things I hadn’t told my family or friends, and the ease at which he’d dismissed it made me feel, well, silly. So I told myself I needed to get over it, and carried on. 

Thankfully, I do know plenty of people who’ve had positive experiences getting help for their mental health issues, and it was knowing friends had received this help that prompted me to visit my GP in the first place. It’s a shame my experience was a shitty one – usually, my doctor is pretty good, but on this occasion, I felt like I was let down. 

As time went on, it seemed people around me were starting to be more honest about their mental health struggles; friends were prescribed antidepressants, family members told me they’d been referred for counselling, and yet I felt I couldn’t be honest about my own feelings because they seemed insignificant. After all, mine would pass, right? 

Then, in February this year, almost two years after visiting my GP, I lost my job, and a few weeks later the world went into lockdown. I spent my time doing things articles online suggested; reading, baking banana bread, taking government-approved walks in nature and, for the most part, feeling shit. But everyone I spoke to was feeling shit too – why were my issues any more significant than anyone else’s?

As ridiculous as it sounds, it took an incident with an avocado in a supermarket for me to realise I did need help, and that my feelings weren’t just a Covid-19-related reaction. A new one-way system in the aisles meant I couldn’t go back to get an item I’d forgotten, and as I tried to work out what I’d make my guacamole from without an avocado, I suddenly couldn’t breathe and found myself in floods of tears. I knew this wasn’t about an avocado, or just about the pandemic, this was something bigger that I needed to deal with.

Speaking to Anji McGrandles, founder of workplace wellbeing company The Mind Tribe, it seems the statistics, and effects of the pandemic on our mental wellbeing are all too familiar. “It’s worrying, but not surprising to see that the number of people suffering from depression has doubled,” she says. “The pandemic will have exacerbated poor mental health. These statistics are a warning of a looming mental health crisis. Well-resourced services, support and timely treatment must be easily accessible to those who need it.”

After my avo-incident, rather than go back to my GP and risk being dismissed again, I managed to self-refer to an NHS CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) course, which despite the awkward video calls each week is a step in the right direction in helping me deal with years of mild depression and anxiety I hadn’t been addressing. Despite the current lack of mental health resources available due to the pandemic, my issues were immediately taken seriously, and I had my first call a week after filling out the forms.

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It shouldn’t take a global pandemic for our mental health to be acknowledged, but as Nicky Hartigan, a Chartered Clinical Psychologist and a Clinical Director at HelloSelf explains, it’s not all bad news.

“The more positive aspect of this story is that the conversation about mental health has been elevated and is in the political, public and professional consciousness more than ever before,” she says. “As a community, we are now keenly aware that life is full of curveballs, that we are all susceptible to emotional struggles and that it is incumbent on us all to support each other and to reach out when we need help.”

Hearing the news that depression has doubled is frustrating – it’s horrible to think that so many people are now suffering, but I also wonder how many people, like me, had been feeling this way for a long time but it took a global pandemic for them to be taken seriously, or for them to take themselves seriously.

NHS England declined to comment.

For more information on depression, including what it is and how to cope, you can visit Rethink’s website, or check out NHS Every Mind Matters. If you need urgent mental health support visit NHS helplines page. 

For confidential support you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.

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