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Recent Research into the Long-Term Effects of Antidepressants

Antidepressant use has been increasing substantially throughout the last few decades with very little research done that focused on patient experiences with their prescription. New research that was recently published on open-access sites took the time to question 180 long-term antidepressant users. The researchers have found that the wide majority of users reported a drastic decrease in their overall depression many found that they felt addicted to their medication and experienced struggles with withdrawal when they tried to stop using their antidepressants.

One participant stated that they didn’t feel as though they were properly informed about the dangers of the drug before they began to use them. “My doctors didn’t tell me about all of the side effects that you could have from long-term antidepressant use such as addiction or a development of tolerance. I had terrible withdrawal symptoms that made me feel suicidal, and only by persisting through the process was I able to wean myself,” they stated.

“I am definitely much better when I am using this medication, but the adverse side effects have been overwhelmingly devastating. When I tried to go off the drug I had to deal with increased agitation, mood changes, and insomnia,” another participant stated. “It makes me feel as though I don’t really have any other way of managing my depression because I just can’t seem to make it through the withdrawal of this antidepressant."

The research was conducted anonymously through an online survey of New Zealand patients who had been using antidepressants for a period of three to fifteen years. They questioned users about how effective the patients found their antidepressants, their levels of depression before, during, and after antidepressant use, the overall quality of their life, and the side effects that they experienced. Additionally, they left space for patients to leave comments regarding their personal experience.

Data shows that there has been a steady increase in the use of antidepressants over a long-term period, but there has been very little research done to support this practice. In fact, there have been no random control trials that evaluate the overall long-term use of antidepressant use as a primary care for depression.

The research that does exist on the long-term use of this class of drugs has poor results. In 2008, a study showed that those who used antidepressants for over two years had a 63% higher rate of recurrence of depression while those who were not on medication only had a recurrence of 26%.

This current study aimed to add to the current literature by gaining insight regarding the experiences of those who are currently using antidepressants. While nine out of ten participants had answered that they experienced a degree of improvement while using medication, 30% stated that they continued to have moderate to severe relapses of depression during their treatment.

Almost 75% of participants did report withdrawal symptoms and 21% had such serious symptoms that they added additional comments regarding the issues during the study. Additionally, 45% of those surveyed believed that they were suffering from some level of addiction to their antidepressants.

“I’ve been taking SSRIs for the last fifteen years and whenever I try to stop, I have relapse or withdrawal symptoms,” another participant stated. “I feel as though my brain chemistry has been permanently affected by my medication. I don’t feel normal when I’m not on them, and cannot seem to wean myself completely.”

The research participants left comments stating that they felt a need for far more training for doctors and prescribers of antidepressants about how to slowly and safely taper patients of the drugs. 

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