Why People Stop Taking Anti-Depressants: Part 3

Psychiatry_Psychology.jpgWe’ve examined the common reasons people stop taking anti-depressants. That’s part of this puzzle. We’ve looked at the difficulty of proving the type of depression an individual has. Now, let’s answer the big question: why does the “cause” of depression really matter? Let’s start with something that happened recently.

Research published by Dr. Irving Kirsch of the University of Hull in England recently made headlines throughout the world. His research showed that many people can take placebos in place of their anti-depressants and achieve about the same outcome as if they had been taking their real medicine. [To note, his research did not include all anti-depressants.] In other words, many people don’t need the drugs, they may just need to think they are taking the drug. Check out some of the article headlines about this research:

  • Anti-depressants ‘of little use’ — BBC
  • Anti-Depressant Drugs Don’t Work — MSNBC
  • Depressed? Here, Try This Tic Tak — Blogging Canadians
  • Depression Medication Not Much Better than Placebos — Eflux Media
  • If it’s all in the mind, fine — TimesOnline


For a second pretend that you took medication for depression. Medicine that had side effects. Medicine that cost money. Medicine for a disorder/illness that may be biological, but then again, may just be how you handle stuff. Medicine that is for a disorder that you don’t have blood tests, sonograms or X-rays as hard data to convince others… to convince yourself that what you “have” is something real, physical, and tangible. Medicine for a something that researchers suggest may not need medicine. What if, in fact, you were putting a chemical in your body for a condition that may be “all in the mind”? Would you be okay with that?

People in the mental health field are quick to point out that some people really do need these medicines. They reiterate that some people need anti-depression medicine like a heart patient needs their pills to survive. In fact, there are quite a few articles devoted to this subject, experts warning people, regardless of the study by Kirsch, not to stop medicine without a doctor’s guidance. I don’t disagree. But from a patient’s standpoint, do you understand the uneasiness with which we “pop” our “happiness pills”?

Truth be told, until biologically-based depression can be separated from other forms of depression, or conditions that people call “depression”, I won’t be entirely convinced that I need the medication. It isn’t enough that I have attempted to stop taking my medicine loads of times only to find myself unable to function. It isn’t enough that every psychiatrist I’ve seen has told me that they really believe there is a genetic explanation to my depression. It isn’t enough that the difference between me on medication and me off medication is like light and day. But until I, like the heart patient, walk out of the office with test results in my hand, a tiny part of me will question… could all this really exist only in my mind?


Kirsch, I., Deacon, B.J., Huedo-Medina, T.B., Scoboria, A., Moore, T.J., Johnson, B.T. (2008). Initial Severity and Antidepressant Benefits: A Meta-Analysis of Data Submitted to the Food and Drug Administration. PLoS Medicine, 5(2), e45. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0050045

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  • J. A.

    I can’t quote the source for the stats, but I once read that treating depression with only pills had around 30ish or 40ish percent success rate, around the same with only therapy, but 74 or so when patients were treated with a combination of both.

    Hmm… The reason why I went off my antidepressants are:
    1) Sex. I enjoyed a very good sex life without antidepressants. Having great difficulties with getting off is annoying as hell, especially when good sex is a valuable vent.
    2) After an unintentional gap in my medication (I was between prescriptions) I discovered how horrendus the withdrawal effects were if I didn’t take my medication for more than around 16 hours or so (my doctor had put me on twice the normal dose, which worked very well for me). I, as someone who is sick several times a year, got terrified of the chance of getting very sick some day and thus not being able to properly absorb the medicine into my system, i.e. a bad situation turning to far worse.
    3) My situation wasn’t as bad as before. I had been in a toxic environment, and was no more. I hoped I no longer needed drugs to compensate, in spite of having a long history of depression (since I was 5 or so).

    This series of posts make me seriously consider taking my pills again, as I may need them soon. Moving to a completely different place might be too stressful for me for the first few months. I am unfortunately not one of the people who can get away with taking placebos, as I associate pill-popping with feeling unwell, and have a history of feeling sicker because of taking a large quantity of placebos on a daily basis (I was put on homeotherapy by one of my parents as a child, it made me even more depressed and ill, even though I at the time was unaware of that they were just sugar pills. I believed the quack and my parent when they said it would actually make me better, and that I had to take them every single day).

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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