What Happens If I Stop Taking My Antidepressants?

Why you should talk to your doc before nixing your medication.

What Happens If I Stop Taking My Antidepressants?

Three American Olympic swimmers—Missy Franklin, Allison Schmitt and Michael Phelps—have spoken up about their battle with high-stakes depression in hopes that sharing their stories will ease the stigma around mental health diseases and help others who are chronically depressed seek treatment.

These star athletes’ message is important: Around 16 million adults in the United States experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. That’s consistent with a new analysis of federal data by the New York Times that indicated around 15.5 million Americans have been taking antidepressants for at least five years—a rate that has more than tripled since 2000.

Treatment with talk therapy and medication can work—and it’s the smart route. But what about getting off of antidepressants when the time is right?

These medications were designed for short-term use—most studies followed people for months not years—and getting off an antidepressant medication, well, that can be a challenge too. A major study out of the UK found that half of folks stopping these meds experience withdrawal symptoms. And, the researchers say, for half of those, withdrawal symptoms are severe. They range from anxiety, insomnia, headaches, nausea and achy muscles, to a return of depression symptoms.

So if you and your doc decide it’s time to go off your antidepressants (or benzodiazepines, antipsychotics or stimulants), decide together how to wean yourself off them. (The same is true for antihypertensive meds and statins.) Then you can hold on to the life-saving benefits the medications have provided.

Medically reviewed in August 2019.

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