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Taking citalopram to treat depression: Rachel's story

Rachel shares her experience of taking citalopram to treat her depression.

Being prescribed citalopram for depression

I was prescribed citalopram by my GP for major depression at the age of 24. I was already an outpatient at the local adult eating disorders service and finally my weight was healthy and stable and I was able to eat more normally than I had for years, but I had noticed that my mood was getting much worse.

I was feeling exhausted and hopeless, sleeping only a couple of hours per night. I was very anxious and jittery and unable to concentrate on reading or even holding a conversation with someone because I couldn’t focus. I had started self-harming a lot, which I hadn’t done regularly for a few years. The harmful, negative thoughts were constant. I also had no appetite and was terrified at the thought of relapsing with bulimia.

My GP explained that it was not a short-term treatment.

My psychiatrist suggested I go to my GP and ask to try an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). I told my GP this and he said he could give me a prescription if I was sure that I wanted to try medication. He explained that it was not a short-term treatment and I would probably have to be on medication for at least six months if I wanted to try it.

I was really unsure about whether going on medication was the right thing to do, because I know a lot of people are very against it. But I was so distressed most of the time that I didn’t know what else I could do. I was worried about taking too much time off work or losing my job because of behaving erratically at work and then not being able to pay my rent. My doctor gave me a prescription for 20mg of citalopram.

Starting out with some side effects

The first day of taking the pills, they made me feel nauseous. A few days later it got much worse and I was very tired and too dizzy to stand up. I had to call in sick to work and just lay on my sofa (crying a lot because I felt so awful). The doctor had warned me I might feel sick or tired but I hadn’t expected to feel so bad or I would have organised time off.

The physical side effects mostly disappeared within the first week. I still have a few, like yawning a lot, feeling like my jaw is stiff, and needing to use the loo more often. But I sleep much better now. I always wake up a few times in the night and am not sure if this is because of the meds or just because I’ve always had sleeping problems.

The first couple of weeks of taking citalopram I was even more anxious; I would shake and fidget more and any loud noise would make me burst into tears. I would feel my heart palpitating or feel like I was going to pass out. A couple of times, walking down the street and hearing a loud car horn made me collapse on the pavement and kneel there with my arms round my head until I could breathe again.

I started feeling like I could be around people and could enjoy things again.

The extra anxiety gradually went away though and after about four weeks I noticed that I wasn’t obsessing about hurting myself nearly so much. I still felt very down but it was much easier to get on with things. Also, my appetite came back. A few weeks after that, my mood had improved a lot and I started feeling like I could be around people and could enjoy things again.

Feeling like myself

I’ve needed to increase the dosage on a couple of occasions when I’ve had a sudden dip in how I was feeling. This is really upsetting because it comes as such a shock after feeling better. I can get irrational and hopeless so quickly.

I’m trying not to be overwhelmed by feelings like that because now that I’ve seen how much relief I can have by taking meds, it’s easier to see these thoughts as a symptom of an illness. At the moment I feel better than I have for years. I’m still taking citalopram and not even thinking about when I will come off it (I know I will some time).

I’ve seen how much relief I can have by taking meds.

The citalopram doesn’t make me feel sedated; I just feel like myself. I know that I need to use this time to practise looking after myself and plan for what I will do if I feel myself getting depressed again.

I keep track of my mood and days when I am more anxious I know I need to give myself time to be calm and not get over-tired. I have many more ways to manage my mental health that I couldn’t even think about when I was really ill.

Author: Rachel

Questions about mental health medication?

If you would like to know more about the different types of mental health medication you could be prescribed, how they help and what the side effects could be, have a look at our guide to medications.

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