Once you're on meds and have your anxiety under control, is it possible to get off of them and live a normal life?
Perhaps. Anxiety disorders and depression can be chronic conditions which wax and wane, but never permanently go away. So you may need to take them from time to time. Antidepressants are not cures, but treatments, as are the psychotherapies.
I don't want to be dependent on meds for the rest of my life...i'm only 19.
The usual recommendation is to stay on an antidepressant for a year and then wean off. If the anxiety keeps returning then there is an argument for staying on them permanently as there is growing evidence that antidepressants become progressively less effective every time they are stopped and restarted, requiring higher doses to achieve the previous level of control. They may also produce more severe, and sometimes different, initial side-effects. According to one study
the odds of antidepressants working after each restart drops by nearly 20%. Note that this applies to all antidepressants, not just the one/s you've taken in the past.
And can someone explain the scientific process of how antidepressants work?
They work by encouraging the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampal regions of the brain to replace those killed off
, or prevented from growing by chronic exposure to stress hormones, principally cortisol. They also strengthen connections between both individual cell and across brain regions, particularly parts of the Limbic system and the frontal lobes.
Are there any harmful effects it can have on the brain?
No. I've been taking antidepressants almost continually for over 27 years and my brain hasn't turned to mush yet. There is some evidence that they may inhibit the growth of neural plaques
linked to Alzheimer's disease. Most of the serotonergic antidepressants also 'thin' the blood which can reduce the incidence of heart disease and ischemic stroke.