Mental heath medicines, like a lot of other medicines, are a mixed bag and come with some big decisions. Even so, taking antidepressants can be a huge support and, in many cases, they’re literal life-savers. If you’re considering starting antidepressants, or changing your usage of them, you might be wondering how long they’ll be part of your life.
After starting on a low dose, and if you can happily manage the side-effects that come with your antidepressant, you need to take most kinds for at least six months before you consider stopping them, for maximum benefit. After that, so long as the medicine is actually helping you, it’s your choice how long you continue to use them.
You don’t have to stop using your antidepressants just because you’re feeling better than you were. In many cases, taking your antidepressant won’t make you feel happier but will help you feel more clear-headed, with more energy to work on your mental health. So, it pays to keep taking them until you feel great again, not just ok. That might take another few months, or it might take a few more years.
You also don’t have to keep taking your medications if you feel you’re going to do well without them. When, for example, you’re taking antidepressants to help you through some particularly tough life circumstances which have since ended and now you feel amazing, it’s probably safe to stop. It can sometimes be frightening to consider life without antidepressants, but your mental health team will work with you so you can stop using them gradually, which means withdrawal symptoms can be managed and you can continue to assess how you’re feeling.
If your current antidepressants aren’t working well for you, there are always options to try new antidepressants, or other medications that might help such as beta-blockers. Medications aren’t perfect and some won’t be perfect for you, but others will be. It might be frightening when you reach out for help and get medication that makes you feel no different or even poorly, but there are other types of help and other types of medications to try. It’s ok to keep trying to find the right treatment for you.
It’s also worth remembering that there are people who will try to tell you that taking anti-depressants for longer than a few weeks makes you weak, but they’re wrong – seeking help, and following through with your treatment, makes you strong.
To put things into another context, for most people depression is a chronic illness that involves emotional, cognitive, and physical symptoms. If you choose to use an antidepressant, it will probably be part of a long-term multi-pronged treatment plan that might involve social rehabilitation, talking therapies, community strategies, etc. Your treatment plan is similar to if you broke your leg badly – pain management medication would be part of the plan, but so might surgery and physiotherapy. If your leg stopped hurting before your physio was done, for example, you might still need some pain management to help you through the very last of the healing process (because, take it from me, physio can basically be medically necessary torture sometimes). It’s ok to take pain meds when your leg hurts, and it’s ok to to take antidepressants when you’re depressed.
In summary, if your antidepressants are working for you, it’s ok to take them for as long as you need to, even if that’s forever. So long as you and your health care team are happy, the choice is completely yours.