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How Long Should You Take Antidepressants?

Dealing With the Side Effects of Antidepressants

When starting these medicines, it’s important to work closely with your doctor so that she can monitor any side effects and how well the medication is working. If you have side effects from one medication, never stop taking it without first talking with your doctor. Brendel says that options for dealing with side effects include:

  • Reducing the dosage of the medicine
  • Adding an additional medication that helps ease the side effects
  • Switching to another medication

People with severe depression and their families should also be aware of the risk for suicide when starting to take antidepressants. The medication itself does not cause adults to become suicidal. But it does help people regain energy and make decisions more easily even while they are still seriously depressed. This may make it easier for a person who is thinking about suicide to take action. If you are having any suicidal thoughts or feelings, work with your mental health provider to put a plan in place in case you start to have difficulty.

Getting the Most From Depression Medication

“People notoriously quit treatment too soon,” says Jon Allen, PhD, senior staff psychologist at Menninger Clinic in Houston. “They start to feel better so they stop taking medication, quit therapy, and even end hospitalization early. The best thing you can do it stick with it. Persistence is what makes all the difference.”

To treat your depression most effectively, follow these tips when starting and stopping medication:

  • Give an antidepressant time to work. “Antidepressants can take a few weeks to a couple of months before they take full effect,” says David Brendel, MD, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and associate medical director for the Pavilion at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. Don’t expect an antidepressant to make you feel better immediately.
  • Take depression medicine exactly as prescribed. Taking less medication or skipping doses will make an antidepressant less effective. If you experience troublesome side effects, be sure to tell your doctor right away. 
  • Don’t go off antidepressants on your own. “Stopping a medication should be done only with a doctor’s supervision,” Brendel tells WebMD. “Some medications can have very unpleasant withdrawal side effects. Once it is time to come off the drug, your doctor will help you slowly and safely taper off by gradually reducing the dose over time.”
  • Don’t give up if one medication isn’t helping your depression. Your doctor will likely be able to prescribe another antidepressant if the one you’re taking doesn’t seem to be working for you. A National Institute of Mental Health study found that people with depression who did not respond to a first medication had a better chance of recovery if they tried a second type or added a new one to their treatment. So it’s worth the effort to find a medication that works for you.
  • Continue taking antidepressant medicine even when you start to feel better. Although it may be tempting to stop medication as your mood lifts, continue taking it for as long as your doctor recommends. Most doctors advise patients to take antidepressants for six months to a year after they no longer feel depressed. Stopping before that time can cause depression to return.

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