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Are anti-depressants a quick fix?

By River Reporter Oct 11, 2012

Kingston students share their experiences with anti-depressants and mental illness.

Lily Kemp

Increased expenses, tighter deadlines and greater expectations are creating a potent combination that puts students at “great risk of anxiety and depression,” according to research. 

Kingston University offers a wide range of mental health support, but due to limited appointments and long waiting lists, students are turning to quick-fix anti-depressants to numb the pain of depression.

Depression is the most common mental health disorder in the UK with eight to 12 per cent of the population suffering from it, according to the Office for National Statistics.

KU third-year student Jenny, 22, suffered from severe depression while studying.

She was unable to afford private therapy, but was uncertain that the free support she was given had the time or provisions to successfully aid her recovery.


Asking for help

“On December 12 2009, the Christmas before I came to university, my dad killed himself,” says  Jenny.

“He drove himself and our dog into the countryside and gassed himself with the car fumes. At first university was distracting, but second year stress brought all the pain back.

“I had a breakdown in class which forced me to open up to my tutors.

“Talking to them made me realise that I needed to open up about my depression.

“After a while I felt that they and my housemates could not stand my crying anymore so I turned to counselling for help.”

Fellow third-year student, Philip Pantani, 21, a forensic science student, thinks that there is not enough support to cope with a rise of students who need counselling to help with mental health issues.

Having suffered from severe depression, he turned to his GP and a counsellor for help. He found that the counselling was unhelpful as well as impersonal.

He said that he was always treated with an “in, out, right, done, goodbye mentality.”

When his GP offered him medication he did not even consider saying no to the suggestion.


A changed man

Now Philip glows with confidence; hard to believe that just a matter of months ago he was taking 100mg of Sertraline (a strong dosage of anti-depressants) every day. At just 21 how could this have seemed like his best option?

However, although the anti-depressants clearly supported Philip towards his recovery, he suffered with harsh withdrawal symptoms when coming off the drugs.

He said: “I was shaky and felt so ill that I couldn’t even drive myself home from work.”

Philip said: “Looking back, I can see that it wasn’t the pills that helped me, it was getting my life back on track. Going to the gym, getting a job, doing my uni work and rebuilding friendships.

“Boosting my confidence by other means made me feel a hell of a lot better than I ever did when I was on anti-depressants.

“The counselling felt so rushed that at the time the drugs seemed like the easiest way to get better,” said Philip.

Like Philip, Jenny did not feel that counselling supported her recovery. On her first session with her counsellor she was told to go to her GP and to get herself anti-depressants.

“When you are so desperate to be happy again and someone you feel you should trust tells you something will help, of course you are going to take their advice.

“Now I feel like if anything else bad happened in my life I wouldn’t know how to deal with it without turning to anti-depressants to numb the pain,” said Jenny.

A University spokeswoman said: “The prescribing of anti-depressants can be very helpful for some, but not all people.”

“Anti-depressants address only the symptoms and not the cause of the problem.”

“They tend to work best with counselling.”

Conservative MP and former GP, Dr Sarah Wollaston, who is a member of the House of Commons Health Select Committee, said that psychiatry has always been underfunded in the NHS.

Dr Wollaston said: “Anti-depressants without adequate follow up or counselling is a waste of these resources and, more importantly, fails students.”

Both Philip and Jenny raised concerns about the amount of time that they were given with their counsellors.

Despite their deep states of depression and the fact that they were both taking anti-depressants to mask their pain, the University’s counsellors can only offer up to ten sessions per person.


Get better deadline

Students’ lives are already full of stressful deadlines. Having a ‘get better deadline’ only seemed to make things worse.

A University spokeswoman said: “While the University Health Centre itself cannot prescribe anti-depressants, we are linked to the Fairhill Medical Practice where as trained doctors, they are able to prescribe anti-depressants.”

But with increased student fees, debts and the new wave of first-year students, the University Health Centre will be inundated with requests for help and advice.

Should more funding be given to the health centre to help give students a greater opportunity to avoid anti-depressants?

 The problem is not exclusive to Kingston. According to the BBC, NHS England spent more than £270m on anti-depressants last year, a 23 per cent rise in expenditure from 2010.

Jenny said: “It would have been my dad’s birthday this week; I hope that I will be able to cope without the aid of anti-depressants.”

The Samaritans 24 hour helpline is a fast way to talk to someone who can help if something is troubling or worrying you. Just call 08457 90 90 90.

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