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FAQs on Antidepressants

What are antidepressants?

Primarily, antidepressants are medication prescribed by psychiatrists to relieve symptoms of depression. Psychiatrists also prescribe antidepressants for relieving symptoms of different types of anxiety disorders, depending on the severity. It's also used sometimes to treat illnesses such as OCD.

Before prescribing medication, the psychiatrist assesses the severity of your illness and decides whether it warrants medication or not. The psychiatrist might consider prescribing antidepressants when the symptoms experienced are:

  • Significantly affecting the ability to function or cope with daily life and
  • Experienced over a long period of time

What to expect if I have been prescribed antidepressants?

Antidepressants take time to act. It may take 1-3 weeks before you begin to start feeling better, and at least 6-8 weeks before you feel the full benefit of the medication. Also, antidepressants work best in combination with psychotherapy or counselling. 

Are there any side-effects of taking antidepressants?

Some of the common side-effects of antidepressants are sleepiness or fatigue, headaches, dry mouth, nausea, queasiness in the stomach and weight gain. Most of these side-effects wear off over a couple of weeks, but it’s important that you discuss these side-effects with your general physician or psychiatrist.

Can I get addicted to antidepressants?

Substances of addiction tend to create a need to increasingly consume them to a point where it affects the person’s life. But antidepressants are not addictive. Discontinuing medication all of a sudden might make you feel jittery or uncomfortable for a few days but these feelings usually tend to go away. However, if the symptoms reappear, it is an indication that the illness has not resolved completely; it is not because you were addicted to the medication.

Can I consume alcohol while on antidepressant treatment?

Consuming alcohol when you are on antidepressants is not recommended. Alcohol is a depressant itself and can intoxicate you faster. Also, alcohol can counteract the benefits of antidepressants and may worsen your symptoms. Therefore, it’s best to avoid consuming alcohol when on antidepressant treatment.

Can I substitute antidepressants with exercise?

Exercise in general is a good practice for a healthy living. Regular exercise helps in boosting your mood and alleviating symptoms (of mental health issues). Studies show that people who exercise regularly benefit in many spheres of their lives.

For mild symptoms of depression and anxiety, exercise can be beneficial. But if you are experiencing moderate to severe symptoms, then in addition to medication, the treating psychiatrist will recommend exercising regularly, following a good diet and having a balanced lifestyle.

What are the specific questions I need to ask my psychiatrist when on antidepressants?

Antidepressants produce subjective results; there is no ‘one size fits all’. Therefore, everyone experiences the effect of the medication differently. Below are a few aspects that you need to ask your psychiatrist when on antidepressant treatment.

  • Some antidepressants have specific side-effects, so you could ask if the antidepressant prescribed has any side-effects that you need to look out for.
  • One of the common side-effect of antidepressants is either nausea or queasiness in the stomach. Therefore, it is worthwhile to know if the medication can be taken on an empty stomach or it needs to be taken with food or after food.
  • If you are taking medications for any other health concerns such as diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol etc. you may want to know if that particular medication might interact with the antidepressant prescribed.
  • Women who are on antidepressants and planning for pregnancy should discuss the impact it can have on the baby.
  • It is necessary for mothers who are on antidepressants and breastfeeding to discuss with the general physician or psychiatrist on the effects of the medication on the baby.

When can I stop taking antidepressants?

When on medication, the psychiatrist will ask you to come for follow-up meetings at regular intervals to understand the effectiveness of the medication. If you have been taking a particular dosage of antidepressant over a period of time and experiencing the full benefit of the medication, your psychiatrist may consider tapering the medication. While doing so, if at any time you feel the symptoms are resurfacing, then it is important to inform your psychiatrist immediately. Therefore, it is best to discuss the options with your psychiatrist before taking the decision to come off antidepressants. Stopping medication abruptly is not recommended.

Who can prescribe antidepressants?

Antidepressants are usually prescribed by psychiatrists. They can also be prescribed by a medical doctor of any speciality such as general physicians and neurologists. Mental health professionals such as psychologists, psychotherapists and social workers provide counseling and therapy but cannot prescribe medication.

The article is written based on the inputs from Dr Sabina Rao, consultant psychiatrist, Sakra World Hospital.