Antidepressant medications were perhaps one of the most important medical discoveries of the 20th century. Antidepressant medication helps thousands of individuals with depression to reduce their symptoms and enjoy an improved quality of life. It is doubtless that antidepressant medication is invaluable to psychiatry and has the power to save countless lives over the years. However, there is one aspect of anti-depressant medication that is seldom talked about, and needs to be addressed: discontinuing antidepressant medication.
In the original clinical trials for antidepressant medication, antidepressant use did not exceed 6 months. Over the years, psychiatrists emphasised on ‘maintenance therapy’ to prevent relapse- however, even then, antidepressant use did not exceed two years in clinical trials. Fast forward to today, and the number of people who are prescribed anti-depressant medication is reaching an all time high. Research in the west suggests that 10% of women over the age of 18 have been prescribed anti-depressant medication. What is more concerning, is that many individuals are prescribed antidepressant medication for periods that last longer than two years. When such individuals attempt to quit antidepressant medication, they may experience a range of side effects. These side effects include nausea, excessive sweating, disturbances in sleep cycle as well as difficulties in motor coordination. Further, these side effects may last from a period of few days to a few weeks. As a result, it is recommended that people who are coming off antidepressant medication slowly taper their dosage over a period of time to minimise side effects.
While antidepressant medications are an invaluable tool in treating depression, it is important for research to be undertaken about the long term effects of antidepressant use and withdrawal. One research by Fava et, al, (2015) found that individuals experienced side-effects from discontinuation of a wide range of SSRI antidepressants, for periods as long as 14 weeks. Further, it is also important for medical professionals to inform clients about the potential side effects that they experience after discontinuing antidepressants. Finally, psychotherapy and additional medication can also be utilised to make the transition from using antidepressants easier.