I’M talking about depression and medication this week. If you’d rather avoid those topics, please give this article a miss, continue to prioritise your needs and take care of yourself.

Thankfully, we’re seeing increasing effort being put into raising awareness about mental illness and seeking treatment: a push which seems incongruous with headlines such as 'patients helped off antidepressants in drive to avoid US-style opioid crisis'.

I'm not a doctor, but a patient, and my experience with antidepressants comes very much as part of the 1 in 3 people in Scotland who struggle with their mental health.

Though depression comes in many forms, it is rarely just a sad day or a bad mood from which someone can quickly bounce back. A depressive episode can mean watching food rot because the thought of getting up to cook for yourself is unbearable, cutting off friends to eliminate the insurmountable task of communication, or neglecting your personal hygiene, because that kind of thing is for human beings and you no longer feel worthy of that title.

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It can feel like a precursor to death, like giving up and letting go: surrendering the uphill swim against the current and just allowing the tide to take you.

If you find it hard to believe depression might make someone neglect themselves like that, remember that the very same feeling of overwhelming worthlessness, of bone-numbing apathy, all too often makes people kill themselves.

Recent coverage pushing the message ‘NHS to offer art classes instead of prescription drugs’, creates a dichotomy between therapy and medication, and seems tailor-made to play into ‘cheer up’ culture, leaving patients for whom antidepressants are an essential part of their treatment plan feeling as though they are doing something wrong.

Art therapy can be an incredibly useful tool to help improve people's mental health, just like other forms of talking therapy, but suggesting it can or should entirely replace medication only serves to contribute further to the stigma surrounding antidepressants. You can hold as many art classes as you want, but if people are too depressed to get out of bed, they might not be as well-attended as you hope

Waiting times for therapy are often prohibitively long, and there is already so much stigma related to mental illness and treatment methods; it does nobody any good to perpetuate myths which a quick chat to a licensed clinician will disprove.

HeraldScotland: Antidepressants can be a vital toolAntidepressants can be a vital tool (Image: free)

I was told by my doctor that when stopping antidepressants, side effects related to discontinuation can be greatly reduced or even eliminated entirely by working closely with a doctor to gradually decrease the dose.

There are very few drugs which are entirely free of side effects, and each time a medication is prescribed, potential risks must be weighed up against possible benefits. Often, through the use of antidepressants, people feel much more able to approach other forms of help.

I was in an extremely low place, wasn't taking care of myself and could barely get out of bed in the morning. I tried to attend therapy regularly, when I could get out of bed, yet I was still experiencing a deep depression which had overtaken every aspect of my life.

One of the reasons I was hesitant to start taking antidepressants was the misguided, pervasive belief that they were addictive and impossible to stop.

My fears were quickly allayed by my GP who informed me that I could be safely tapered off them if and when I felt ready to stop taking them. About 3 weeks after starting my antidepressants, my appetite and attendance at university both began to improve.

I felt more able to cope – with life and the various stresses of which it was composed.

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I'm not suggesting that antidepressants cured my depression or made my life perfect. The use of medication involves no less effort than other treatments, such as therapy, and are certainly not the "easy way out".

Just as the tablets made the lows less low, it also dimmed the intensity of other emotions, keeping me at a more emotionally conservative, but balanced state.

It was in this balanced state that I felt more able to do basic tasks like take care of my personal hygiene and go to work, without spending large portions of each day thinking dangerous thoughts.

To suggest that the goal of antidepressants or medication used to treat and manage symptoms of mental illness is to stop taking them sets an unrealistic precedent.

Certain conditions, such as chronic mental health issues, can be lifelong illnesses and as such the treatment plans used to manage them may involve a repeat, or even lifelong prescription of antidepressants or antipsychotics.

Antidepressants aren't happy pills, they don't magically fix mental illness or address its underlying societal or personal causes, and nobody is on them for the fun of it. If you've never been on antidepressants, let me tell you, they do not get you high. Antidepressants are not opioids, and nobody is buzzing out their nut on 50mg of sertraline.

Without taking drastic steps to improve the societal circumstances which contribute to the prevalence of mental illness – poverty, food or housing insecurity, abusive situations, poor working conditions and a poorly funded mental health system – the increasing demand for long-term medicine used to treat these illnesses may never go away.

Mental illness is often a symptom of a sick society, one which puts immense pressure on people just to survive and yet expects them to thrive.

For many people struggling with their mental health, they can’t take time off to recover, they can neither afford, nor afford to wait for necessary treatment, and are simply trying to keep their head above water.

There is no shame in using antidepressants, they are as morally neutral as any other medicine, regardless of how long they are prescribed.

The stigma associated with medication used to manage mental illness is based in a lack of education, and a societal aversion to treating mental illness with the same respect as one would a physical condition.

I, like many others, have a chronic mental health condition. I am under no illusion that throughout my life, when I am experiencing periods of poor mental health it may be in my best interests to use antidepressants to manage my illness.

All treatment for mental illness, whatever form it takes, should be made readily available to everyone who needs it without cost or extensive delay, for as long as it is required.

The impact of the alternative, I'm afraid, will last much longer.