Why People Stop Taking Anti-Depressants: Part 1

Psychiatry_Psychology.jpgRecently I read an AP article entitled Experts: Troubled patients may go off meds. This article used the recent college shootings by Steven Kazmierczak as an example of someone who stopped taking a psychiatric drug and then “lost it.” In a nutshell, the article goes on to explain reasons that people go off medications and gives first-hand accounts of people who need to take medicine.

Now obviously there are millions of people who take anti-depressants or other medicines for mental illnesses. And many of these people have stopped taking their medicine (or will in the future) for one reason or another. And very, very few of these people make the headlines for infamous actions. In fact, there isn’t even evidence that Kazmierczak and his predecessors were affected by taking, or not taking, medicine.

But it’s true that many people stop taking their anti-depressants, and in many cases the resulting behaviour is bad enough that the person starts taking their medicine again. And then the same person stops the medicine again. The bad outcome is repeated and medicine is started again. This illogical cycle probably bewilders the general public and even family members but, really, there is some logic behind it. And in order for this cycle to be broken, it’s important to understand that there may just be a “hidden” reason why some wrestle with taking anti-depressants.

Let’s start with the obvious reasons people stop taking anti-depressants — bad side effects such as physical discomfort, increased anxiety or drowsiness, and of course, the big daddy of them all, “sexual dysfunction.” I say this because many people don’t realize how pronounced this side effect can be. Although many never experience this problem, many others do experience sexual dysfunction. It’s easy for this to become the “white elephant” in the room. After all, if your partner never desires sex, if your partner never reaches orgasm, if your partner has erectile issues, your relationship is going to have to make some serious adjustments.

Side effects are one aspect of the problem but let’s be honest; almost all drugs, taken for any reason, have side effects. Who hasn’t heard the disclaimer at the end of a drug commercial listing the 30 horrific things that can happen to you if you choose to control your seasonal allergies or reduce your acid reflux? So, side effects aren’t the hidden culprit.

Another reason people stop taking anti-depressants is because they don’t see fast results. This makes sense. When taking a common antibiotic or aspirin, the effects are usually felt immediately or within a few days. Waiting weeks or a month to feel “normal” and functional again is difficult and scary.

And as research shows (and countless people will attest to this), it’s even harder to wait for a drug to work when you suddenly start experiencing strong side effects caused by the drug. Feeling depression is bad enough but add rapid breathing, heightened anxiety or increased lethargy to the mix and it’s easy to conclude that drugs are just going to make things worse. After all, on the surface it looks like a case of simple cause and effect: take medicine — feel worse. Yet, this too happens with other types of medications. So this isn’t the subtle reason. Stay tuned for part 2.


Aleccia, JoNel. Think twice before you dump antidepressants. MSNBC. 2008.

Associated Press. Experts: Troubled patients may go off meds. MSNBC. 2008.

Cavendish, Camilla. If it’s all in the mind, fine. TimesOnline. 2008.

If Anti-Depressants are so wonderful – why do people stop taking them? Aetna Pharmacy. 2006.

  • Barbara

    I have to say taking medication of any kind does not sit well with me, intellectually or physically. I have always been highly sensitive to its various effects, sometimes in the extreme. Example: I was having my wisdom teeth removed. They gave me a valium. I sat in the waiting room afterwards for six hours waiting for the effects to wear off. They wouldn’t let me leave, escorted or not. The recovery from the surgery itself went well, it was not the case with the combination of drugs that my system had to navigate.

    When a doctor first suggested anti-depressants, I was too sick to argue. I needed to feel better. I took the medication in increasing dosages with all types of weird side effects for three+ years.

    Once I “decided” to stop taking the medication, it was a combination of good and bad arguments, and not all of them rationally based. That of course is hindsight talking. I am still mostly opposed to drugs for me. I think one of the biggest things that tipped the no more drugs scale was the artificially induced moods that only the drug could provide and the necessity for increasing dosages to do so. Those moods not only apparent to me but those close to me. And they often had a bigger price, evidence of organ damage and of course this seemingly endless dependency.

    It is a difficult place to be, to take or not to take. And once one is enmeshed, it is even more difficult to continue or decide not to.

    I’d like to believe in the wisdom that this very intricate system we inhabit does in fact have the ability to heal itself as long as I keep working at it and with the aspects that need healing, without drugs as regulators that can screw up a bunch of other workings in the process.

  • Laurel

    Thanks for pointing out that anti-depressants aren’t the only drugs that have side effects. Ibuprofen has side effects too; it can irritate your stomach if you don’t take it with food. The side effects of anti-depressants don’t always last very long either. I was on an SSRI for awhile and I got nauseous when I first started taking it, but this only lasted for a few days. I had a decrease in appetite that lasted longer, but it wasn’t severe enough for me to stop taking the medicine. Sometimes side effects don’t last long or can be managed by changing the dosage of medication. In this kind of situation, people should talk to their doctor before just stopping the medication cold turkey.

  • Candace

    I was taking an SSRI and it was effective, so effective that I stopped having any moods at all. When I complained to my doctor, instead of suggesting that perhaps my depression had healed and I could be weaned off the drugs he suggested changing drugs and then adding more to them. I was put on another SSRI and then had another drug added one month later. This last drug had possible side effects of manic episodes, and I had them.

    When I complained again, my doctor suggested that I was actually bi-polar and this was the cause of my manic behaviour. I’m 35 years old, and I would know if I was bi-polar. I’ve been in counseling before, I’ve been on anti-depressents before, and THIS was never an issue. I took myself off my medicine, and except for a medication induced migraine (one that took me going on a anti-seizure medicine to control) I have never felt better. My mind has healed, and without the migraines that I was experiencing before I went on the SSRI’s and while I was on them, as well as the purposeful reduction in stress in my life, I feel like a new person.

    In my case, going off my medicine was the best thing I could have done for myself. If left up to my doctor, he would have continued to add more and more medicine to try and control my moods. This is why I believe that therapy and exercise and diet modification should be used BEFORE the introduction of drugs. My doctor told me when he put me on the medicine that I wouldn’t need therapy or any lifestyle changes because of how wonderful the new drugs are. I now see that he believed the hype of the drug rep and was not using a common sense approach to medicine that would have been much more beneficial to me.

    Some people truly need anti-depressants, for the rest of us though, simple lifestyle adjustments and exercise may be the best cure. In my case I was just simply stressed out and my mind couldn’t take anymore stress. Having someone objective to look at my life with me and come up with a gameplan to help me reduce my stress would have been great, instead I did it on my own, and thankfully, learned a great lesson.

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J. R. White

J. R. White is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. She has over five years of experience in education and pedagogy.

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