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.

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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