There are several steps you should and shouldn’t take when considering whether to start an antidepressant. These apply no matter what kind of attitudes you already have about depression and antidepressants.
1. Find a pro.
See a healthcare professional who has a strong background in diagnosing and treating depression. A friend, a family member, or a counselor may have suggested that you’re depressed, but to get the right help, you need to be evaluated by a professional with years of mental health experience.
2. Challenge authority.
Ask questions and challenge your doctor on the diagnosis and treatment recommendations. This may sound odd coming from a psychiatrist. But if your doctor recommends that you take antidepressants, it’s essential that you find out why you should follow his or her advice. A skilled professional should be able to explain her diagnosis and recommended treatment.
3. Seek other opinions.
Get second and third opinions if you’re not convinced you’re getting the right care. Since diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems is generally based on symptoms rather than objective tests or physical findings, it’s wise to get another professional’s perspective. Make sure the second clinician is well-trained, unbiased, and willing to provide a second opinion without treating you.
4. Open your mind.
Educate yourself and be open-minded about mental health conditions and treatments for them. Always be a proactive and informed consumer when it comes to your health. You can get up-to-date and reliable depression information at these websites: www.takingantidepressants, www.webmd.com, www.nimh.nih.gov, and www.ifred.org.
5. Get a workup.
Get a good medical examination, because common medical conditions and medications can mimic depression. Anyone diagnosed with depression should have a thorough physical exam to make sure there are no other medical problems that could be causing or worsening their symptoms.
6. Don’t self-diagnose.
While some people resist the idea that they have depression, others may be too willing to diagnosis themselves. Information about depression is all over the media, from antidepressant commercials on TV and print media, to reality TV and talk shows. Don’t make the decision without the evaluation of a professional with years of experience.
7. Don’t treat yourself.
Many people are reluctant to see a doctor because of the time, expense, and privacy concerns. But the consequences of not getting help or trying to determine your own course of therapy, including medication, could lead to far more expensive, embarrassing, and dangerous problems.
8. Be a skeptic.
Don’t believe everything you hear or read about depression. People have a tendency to access resources and people that validate their preconceived idea about a subject. Get all the facts from reliable sources before making a decision about your mental health and well-being.
Michael Banov MD is a Harvard-trained, triple board-certified adult, adolescent, and addiction psychiatrist and medical director of Northwest Behavioral Medicine and Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
More detailed information on how to determine the right time to quit antidepressants -- as well as how to do it safely -- is in Dr. Banov's new book, Taking Antidepressants: Your Comprehensive Guide to Starting, Staying On, and Safely Quitting (Sunrise River Press, 2010).
Find out more at www.takingantidepressants.com