If you are being treated for moderate to severe depression, a doctor or psychiatrist has probably prescribed an antidepressant medication for you. When they work properly, they help to relieve symptoms and, along with other approaches such as talk therapy, are an important part of treatment.
One way antidepressants work is by altering the balance of certain chemicals in your brain. And, as with all medicines, this change can cause side effects. Some, like jitteriness, weird dreams, dry mouth, and diarrhea typically go away after a week or two -- if they don’t, it’s probably best to switch to another drug. Others, like decreased sexual desire, may last longer.
Antidepressants, especially when combined with talk therapy, generally help people recover from depression. Symptoms begin to improve within weeks for the majority of people taking antidepressants. And people who take antidepressants long-term -- up to 36 months -- have a relapse rate of only 18% compared to 40% for those who do not.
But if they work so well, why do so many people stop taking antidepressants within a few weeks of starting them? Or skip doses when they start to feel better?
Not everyone has the same side effects. And a particular antidepressant doesn’t cause the same side effects in all people. Many things, including your genetic makeup or existing health conditions, can affect the way you respond to taking an antidepressant.
It’s important to keep track of side effects and discuss them with your doctor. Together, you and your doctor can safely manage your antidepressants so they work with minimal side effects.
Common Side Effects of Antidepressants
Antidepressants can sometimes cause a wide range of unpleasant side effects, including:
increased appetite and weight gain
loss of sexual desire and other sexual problems, such as erectile dysfunction and decreased orgasm
fatigue and drowsiness
Antidepressants and Sexual Problems
One of the more common “though not frequently talked about” side effects is decreased interest in sex or decreased ability to have an orgasm. As many as half the patients who get SSRIs report a sex-related symptom, says Bradley N. Gaynes, MD, MPH, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina.
One way to address such symptoms is to add a different type of antidepressant or even a medication for erectile dysfunction, Gaynes says. But it’s also possible that switching to another antidepressant will make these symptoms go away. Never stop taking the antidepressant without discussing it with your doctor. Stopping abruptly could cause serious withdrawal-like problems.