How long can someone take antidepressants?

If you have taken a prescription antidepressant, the prescribing physician should have warned you that it can take a minimum amount of time before it takes effect. But what about the maximum amount of time? Can the medication stop working when you have been taking it for a specific time? These medical professionals weigh in with their expertise below.
Joseph Gardzina

Joseph Gardzina

Psychiatrist at .

Depends On Phase: Acute, Continuation, Maintenance, And Taper

Antidepressant usage is unique for each consumer. Here are my generalized thoughts on how they should be used, though.

Typically there is an acute phase, wherein the patient suffering from an illness such as major depression may get a prescription from their psychiatrist, recommending them to take antidepressants. This is a phase that usually lasts from two to four months.

This is followed by the continuation phase. Based on how a patient responds to the medication, especially if progress is slow, they are usually prescribed medication consumption ranging from 9 months to 18 months. Such patients are often suggested to use psychotherapy in conjunction with their use of medication.

The maintenance phase is characterized by patients who suffer from chronic depression. They are given medication lasting two to four years and even more. They are at greater risk of their condition aggravating in the case they stop consuming antidepressants.

The last stage is that of tapering off. Medication cannot be quit cold turkey; that has drastically negative consequences. Instead, the dosage is gently reduced so as to let the body adjust smoothly.

Length Varies, But Minimum Should Be Six Months

It’s generally suggested that an antidepressant regimen should be taken for a minimum of six months, even after the individual’s symptoms have improved, in order to prevent relapse when treatment is stopped. Long-term medication may need to be continued for people prone to relapsing.

This would need to be discussed with your doctor or physician, as the individual’s needs may vary. In any case, it is essential to monitor any changes in symptoms while taking antidepressants and report them to your doctor. Additionally, you should never suddenly stop or change your medication without talking to a healthcare professional first, as this can lead to withdrawal symptoms. If you think that your antidepressant is not working or if you are experiencing any side effects, don’t hesitate to discuss it with your doctor. They will be able to adjust the dose or prescribe an alternative medication if necessary.

Note that antidepressants are only one part of the treatment for mental health issues and should be taken in tandem with therapy and lifestyle changes such as eating healthy and getting enough sleep, for example.

Gary Tucker

Gary Tucker

Licensed Psychotherapist at .
Harold Hong

Harold Hong

Medical Director at .

Treatment Is Individualized, So There Isn’t A Definitive Rule

First, you should always consult with your physician before starting or stopping a regimen of antidepressants.

Over the last couple of decades, four times as many Americans have started taking antidepressants. Antidepressants aren’t aspirin that you can take and expect results in a few minutes. It can take a period of several weeks to several months before it achieves its desired effect. Even then, sometimes certain antidepressants aren’t suited to some patients. In those cases, it can take longer to find the right medication or combination of medications.

So it is difficult to say exactly how long someone should take antidepressants. It is important to remember that everyone’s experience with antidepressants will be unique, and there are no hard and fast rules. Generally speaking, most people who have depression will need to stay on their antidepressant for four to six months after the adjustment period. Some may need to stay on them longer, say six to twelve months after they’re adjusted to the medication. It depends on the severity of their condition and other individual factors.

When stopping medication, it is also important that it be done gradually. Antidepressants affect the hormones and chemicals in the brain, and just as it took time for them to take effect, so too can it take time for them to stop having an impact. It is important to speak with your doctor about how you should go about weaning off medications.

Varies By Individual Condition, Medication, And Treatment Goals

The duration of antidepressant treatment can vary depending on several factors, including the individual’s condition, the specific antidepressant medication, and the treatment goals. Here are a few key points to consider:

Acute Phase: Antidepressants are often prescribed to treat depressive episodes, and the initial phase of treatment is typically referred to as the acute phase. During this phase, which usually lasts for several weeks to a few months, the medication aims to alleviate the symptoms of depression and stabilize the individual’s mood.

Continuation Phase: After the acute phase, a continuation phase follows. This phase involves continuing the antidepressant treatment for an extended period to prevent a relapse of depressive symptoms. The duration of the continuation phase can vary but is commonly around four to nine months.

Maintenance Phase: In some cases, a maintenance phase may be recommended, especially for individuals who have experienced recurrent or chronic depression. This phase involves long-term treatment with antidepressants to prevent future depressive episodes. The duration of the maintenance phase can range from several months to years, depending on the individual’s response to the medication and the clinical judgment of the healthcare provider.

It’s worth noting that the duration of antidepressant treatment is highly individualized. Always follow the prescribed dosage and never stop taking antidepressants abruptly without medical guidance. When discontinuing antidepressants, a gradual tapering-off approach is often recommended to minimize potential withdrawal symptoms.

Wang Lushun

Wang Lushun

Senior Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon and Medical Director of .

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