To Medicate, Or Not to Medicate
Many people are reluctant to try antidepressants.
That can be true even when they have been struggling with depression for a long time. For some, taking an antidepressant feels like an admission of weakness. For others, it feels like a failure of faith if their religious tradition is leery of mental health medications. And for some—particularly those who have been convinced, for example, that artists are “supposed” to be depressed—taking an antidepressant feels like a threat to their creativity.
While these objections are understandable, the fact is that mental health problems are extremely common in the United States. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 16 million adults in the U.S. dealt with one or more major depressive episodes in 2016. Given the extreme challenges of 2020—including significant stressors, increased isolation, and a general sense of ongoing alarm—it’s reasonable to conclude that the estimated number would be even higher now.
All of these things considered, you may be thinking about talking to your doctor about starting an antidepressant—even if you’ve been resistant to the idea in the past.
That’s a good thing. Antidepressants provide a lifeline—sometimes quite literally—to many people struggling with depression. There’s a good chance they can do the same for you. As with any medication, caution in following your doctor’s advice and prescription is important. This is especially true when you feel ready to stop taking the medication.
Let’s look at some of the challenges related to quitting antidepressants.
Reasons You Might Choose to Stop Taking Antidepressants
Antidepressants can come with a range of side effects for some people. Those side effects vary, but some of them can be quite unpleasant. For other people, the problem is not so much the side effects as it is a failure to feel the primary effect—in other words, the drug doesn’t seem to help.
In either case, you may decide things were better before you started taking the medication. Or, you might decide at some point to stop taking the drugs because you are feeling better. No matter what your reason might be for choosing to stop taking an antidepressant, talk with your doctor first to minimize or avoid antidepressant discontinuation symptoms.
What Are Antidepressant Discontinuation Symptoms?
It’s a mouthful, right? But the concept is pretty simple.
Over time, your brain and body become used to the presence of the antidepressant. If you stop taking it abruptly, your brain and body will likely let you know that they aren’t too pleased with your decision.
That displeasure is expressed in a range of symptoms that can include:
- Headaches, blurry vision, dizziness, and/or a persistent runny nose
- Nausea and/or vomiting, fatigue and/or lethargy, and chills and/or fever
- Difficulty walking, tremors, dystonia (a state of abnormal muscle tone) and/or a feeling of tingling in the body
- Insomnia and/or vivid, troubling dreams
- Depression, anxiety, irritability, and/or frequent mood swings
- Rarely, mania and/or hallucinations
In order to help you minimize or avoid these symptoms, your doctor will likely recommend a process of ending your medication called tapering.
What Does it Mean to Taper Off of a Medication?
Tapering means that, under the guidance of your doctor, you will slowly reduce the amount of medication you take until you eventually stop altogether. Tapering gives your brain and body a chance to adjust to the ever-reducing dosages, making it far less likely you will experience antidepressant discontinuation symptoms.
In some cases, your physician may recommend you switch from one drug to another and then taper off of that second drug. This can help the tapering process go more smoothly if the second drug has a longer half life (which is the length of time it takes for the amount of a drug in your system to be reduced by half).
No Need to Be Depressed—The Aviary Can Help
In many cases, you will be able to taper off of an antidepressant simply by following your doctor’s instructions. In some cases, however, the tapering process may have some bumps in the road. In that case, the Aviary Recovery Center’s detoxification program can be helpful.
Equally importantly, we can help with any other substance use problems you may be struggling with (if, for example, you have turned to alcohol as a means of managing your depression). And we can help you find new and more effective strategies for addressing the mental illness that led you to try antidepressants in the first place. We are here to support you.