How Long Should I Be On Antidepressants?

By

Erin Azuse, RN BSN

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According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about one out of every 10 Americans over the age of 12 takes antidepressants, and the rate of antidepressant use in this country has increased by almost 400% in the last 20 years. If you are someone who is currently taking antidepressants, you are certainly not alone.

Yet it’s not uncommon for those on medication to wonder how long they need to continue to take it. Whether you’ve had an improvement in symptoms or are experiencing unpleasant side effects, let’s take a look at some things to consider when taking antidepressants.

Giveit some time.

Several categories of antidepressants exist, but in general, they work by altering neurotransmitters, like serotonin and norepinephrine, to create changes in the brain. It’s important to realize these changes take time, and you should expect it to take at least 4 to 8 weeks before the medication fully takes effect. Additionally, many medications need to be started at a lower dose, and your doctor will gradually increase the amount of medication you take until you find what works for you.

The length of treatment varies.

Even once you do start to feel better, you should expect to remain on your antidepressant for at least 4 to 6 additional months. Those experiencing depression for the first time may require even longer, from 6 to 12 months. This is due to the risk of depression returning if the medication is stopped too soon.

Keep in mind, though, these time frames reflect the minimum treatment time. In reality, many people are on antidepressants even longer. Some may find they need to continue antidepressants indefinitely, while others will go on and off the medication at different times in their lives. Certain life changes, such as pregnancy or a death in the family, may precipitate a need to continue or restart antidepressants, and that’s OK. Try not to place the pressure of a timeline on yourself. It’s going to be different for everyone.

Discuss your options.

It is possible, even after the proper amount of time, that you may discover a certain antidepressant isn’t really helping. Sometimes there is a bit of trial and error involved, and your doctor may need to try another class of antidepressants or add an additional medication. Be sure to let you doctor know your if antidepressant isn’t working since other alternatives exist.

Most individuals who take antidepressants do not experience any side effects, and for those that do, they are generally mild. Sometimes these will go away after being on the medication for a while. Yet if you find that the side effects are too troublesome, discuss this with your doctor. There may be ways of treating the symptoms. You may even be able to eliminate them by changing how you take the medication, such as the time of day or taking it with food. If this still doesn’t help, your doctor may find another medication that will suit you better.

If at any time serious side effects develop or if you experience thoughts of suicide, contact your doctor immediately.

Ease off slowly.

Once you’re feeling better, talk to your doctor. You should never stop taking your antidepressants suddenly or on your own. If you and your doctor decide you’re ready to come off of your antidepressant, your medication will gradually be tapered and your response will be closely monitored. Doing so will decrease the possibility of experiencing symptoms of withdrawal or reoccurrence of depression.

Many people benefit from the use of antidepressants, but it is a very individual process that may require some fine-tuning along the way. Be patient, but also be open with your doctor about how you are feeling during this time. Remember the goal here is to improve your quality of life, so ultimately, only you and your doctor know how long your treatment will need to last.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 16, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Antidepressant Use in Persons Aged 12 and Over: United States, 2005-2008. Centers for Disease Control. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db76.htm.
  2. Depression Medicines. Cleveland Clinic. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Depression/hic_Treatment_Options_for_De...
  3. Depression- Stopping Your Medicines. Medline Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000570.htm.
  4. Medication. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. https://www.adaa.org/finding-help/treatment/medicatio

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