Antidepressant Fears and Facts

Antidepressants are one of the primary treatments for depression and the second most prescribed drugs in the U.S. More than 11 percent of Americans 12 and older take at least one of the two dozen FDA-approved antidepressant medications. However, many people who might benefit from antidepressants are reluctant to take them—or fail to take them as prescribed—due to fears and concerns.

The most common concerns about antidepressants include a general negative attitude about these medications, unwanted side effects, and fear of addiction. Some people have tried an antidepressant in the past and did not have a good experience with it. Still others, especially older adults, are resistant to viewing depression as a medical illness and concerned that antidepressants prevent people from experiencing natural feelings of sadness.

Side Effects and Addiction

Like any medication, antidepressants may cause side effects, including sexual dysfunction, headache, fatigue, insomnia, loss of mental ability, nausea, weight gain, and nervousness. Side effects are the most common reason people stop taking prescribed antidepressants. The good news is that most side effects subside after a few weeks. For those that persist, there are strategies to minimize or manage them. Sometimes, all it takes is switching to a different antidepressant.

Contrary to what some believe, antidepressants are not addictive. It's best to stop taking them gradually (under your physician's supervision, of course) to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, medications for depression do not change who a person is or prevent them from feeling normal human emotions.

Fear of Suicide

In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) added a black box warning to antidepressants due to concerns they raised the risk of suicide in children and young adults. A February 2012 article in the Archives of General Psychiatry questioned the data that prompted this warning.

The results for pediatric patients are still somewhat unclear. The original study found that suicidal thoughts or attempts were twice as common in kids taking an antidepressant compared to a placebo, although none committed suicide. Other studies made this comparison after measuring suicide risk at the beginning of the study and found no difference after eight weeks. The studies used fluoxetine, the only antidepressant approved for treating depression in children.

Adults and geriatric patients, however, had a reduction in suicide risk over time compared to those taking a placebo.

Every medical intervention, including taking antidepressants, requires an analysis of the risks and benefits in consultation with your physician. Individuals suffering from moderate to severe depression may find relief with antidepressant medications. It's important to discuss both your concerns and any potential side effects with your physician.


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