When do you stop taking your antidepressants?

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If you suffer from major depression then the chances are you will have been prescribed some form of antidepressant drug. However, how do you know when it’s safe to stop taking them?

According to Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry Maurizio Fava, “this is an area of great importance to patients, and given the very limited data available, there is a clear need for studies to inform clinicians and patients”.

Even though we understand more about depression and antidepressant drugs now than ever before, what we don’t know, is when it’s safe to stop taking the drugs as there hasn’t been enough studies into this particular aspect of anti depressant medication. We also have no way of knowing how long someone’s depression is likely to last. For some it may be a few weeks or months whereas for others it can last for years or even decades.

What the data suggests is that if you’ve had one major depressive episode then you have about a 50 percent chance of having another. If you’ve had two then of course the risk is much higher than that, and with each additional episode, the risk of another increases yet again.

What is known is that it is not a good idea to just suddenly stop taking your medication as this can cause some rather unpleasant side effects. So what do you do if you want to stop taking your antidepressant drugs?

The first thing would be to talk to your doctor or care provider; however, there are no set rules or guidelines for your doctor to follow as to when it’s ok for you to come off your drugs. What your doctor is likely to do is to gradually reduce your dosage over a period of weeks or perhaps a few months.

It’s also not a good idea to start to reduce your antidepressant dosage at a time when you are experiencing stress in your life as this might trigger depression symptoms again.

You also stand a better chance of coming off your antidepressants easily if your depression was mild. However, that doesn’t mean that those with major depression or who have had many episodes in their life cannot come off their medication, it just means that the dosage should be reduced much more slowly as the chance of a relapse after cutting back on the medication may be higher.

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