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How Long Should You Take Antidepressants?

By Brenda Conaway
WebMD Feature

If you are considering taking an antidepressant, you may be concerned about how long you’ll need to stay on it. Even if you feel that it will help treat your depression, you may not like taking any medicine if you can help it. You may wonder about side effects or long-term effects of taking a drug that alters brain chemistry.

If you’re already taking a medication for depression, you might be wondering about when to stop. If your mood and outlook on life have gotten brighter, do you really need to continue taking an antidepressant?

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In general, doctors recommend that people stay on an antidepressant at least one year to experience the full benefits. Beyond that, when -- and whether -- you should to go off depression medication is a personal choice that requires serious thought. This article will help you understand different types of medications that treat depression, how the use them most effectively, and what to consider when deciding how long to take them.

How Depression Medications Help Mend the Mind

“Often a patient with depression will come in, very reluctant to try medication,” says Anthony Rothschild, MD, professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Psychopharmacologic Research and Treatment at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. “Then once they decide to try it, they thank me for convincing them to take it.”

Antidepressants work by targeting certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. These chemicals affect mood and emotion. But exactly how antidepressants lessen depression is unclear.

Experts have traditionally thought that they restore a chemical imbalance caused by being depressed. But some researchers now believe that depression and stress may actually destroy the connections between nerve cells -- and even the cells themselves. They believe that antidepressants work by restoring these nerve pathways.

Types of Antidepressants and Their Side Effects

There are five types of antidepressant medications available. Most target neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

All of these medicines can cause side effects. About half of the people who take them experience side effects, especially during the first few weeks of treatment.

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