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How Long Should You Take Antidepressants?

Antidepressants: Knowing When to Stop -- or Not to Stop

So once you have found an effective depression medication for you, how long should you stick with it? Many factors come into play. The most important is your risk for a relapse.  

“Depression is an episodic, recurrent illness,” Rothschild tells WebMD. “How long a person needs to stay on an antidepressant depends on how many episodes of depression the person has had. For example, someone who has had only one episode should stay on medication for six months to a year before tapering off.”

Rothschild says the decision is more complicated for people who’ve had two episodes of depression. “If they have a strong family history of depression, or one of those episodes was so severe that their life was impacted significantly in some way, then I would recommend that they stay on medication indefinitely. If not, they could try tapering off after a year and see how they do. But people who have three or more episodes should stay on antidepressants for the rest of their life, as the chance of a relapse is about 90%.”

Brendel agrees. “In people with severe depression, it’s just not worth the risk to come off medication,” he says.

Only you and your mental health provider can make the decision that is right for you, however. You’ll want to take into account the severity of your depression, your risk for relapse, whether you can live with any side effects, and how well the medication continues to work. “It is a very individualized decision that comes out of a conversation between a patient and doctor,” Brendel says.

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Reviewed on July 06, 2010

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