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Are antidepressants for life?

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

Every day I see patients who are taking antidepressants. This is true across the country as the number of prescriptions for antidepressants has climbed over the years. I generally have a few thoughts that go through my head when I see an antidepressant on a patients medication list.

I am glad they are treating their depression

Is it helping them

Have they tried counseling in the past

Have they tried to taper off the medication

Has your doctor ever asked if you wanted to stop a medication?

I often ask my patients who take antidepressants if they have tried to taper off the medication. Not because I think long term use of the medication is dangerous or detrimental to their health. It is because a large percentage may no longer need the medication. Depression is a recurrent episodic condition that can change over time. It is possible for many to taper off antidepressants and continue to not have symptoms of depression.

If you have developed more tools in your toolkit to deal with depression, usually through counseling, then the need for a medication may be gone.

Who might benefit from trying a taper?

You have had one or two major episodes of depression in your life.

You have developed more tools in your toolkit after counseling.

Your life situation has improved.

You have been on stable on the medication for over year.

Who might benefit from long term antidepressants?

You have had three or more major episodes of depression in your life

You have not attended counseling and still struggle with coping strategies

Your life situation has not changed.

You have not yet achieved stability on the medication

If you meet the criteria above for trying to taper your antidepressant medication discuss this with your doctor at your next visit. Antidepressants can be difficult to taper off. It can take quite some time but can be done safely. Although many people benefit from lifelong antidepressants, not everyone needs them for life.

If you are considering stopping your antidepressant, check out Harvards guidance for tapering antidepressants.

Live your mission.


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