10 Things No One Tells You About Taking Antidepressants

One in four American women take antidepressants, so if you’re considering them (or have already been prescribed them), you’re not alone. It can be a scary and frustrating process, and when you’re already depressed and/or anxious, that’s the last thing you need. Here are the things you need to know from someone who’s been through the process:

  1. There’s no exact science to prescribing antidepressants. Psychiatrists can’t know which medicine will work for you. It’s not like when you have the flu or a broken arm, and there’s a straightforward treatment plan. Different medications work differently for different people. It can be scary to hear this from your doctor but it’s totally normal.
  2. It can be difficult to get an appointment with a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist shortage in America is intense. It may take weeks before you’re able to get an appointment, which can be very discouraging. Make sure you ask to be on an immediate waiting list and offer to take day-of appointments if they come up. If you have a primary care physician, talk to them first—sometimes they can prescribe antidepressants or will have a recommendation for a referral.
  3. There’s a difference between antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, and you might need to be prescribed both. Antidepressants are classified as SSRIs or “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors,” which sounds crazy but really just means that they calm different parts of your brain down and light other parts up. Anti-anxiety medication, like Xanax or Ativan, are benzodiazepines, which are taken to calm the body’s nervous system. Talk to your doctor about what’s right for you.
  4. There is an adjustment period when you first begin taking antidepressants and it can be really painful. Because SSRIs affect your brain, it can take two to four weeks for your body to adjust to the medication, and during that time, you may experience side effects like increased depression and anxiety, bad nightmares, nausea, and fatigue. It can be really scary, and it’s hard to tell if you’re adjusting to the medicine or if the medicine is not a good fit for you. Consider taking a few days off from work and definitely cancel all extracurriculars. Don’t be afraid to call your doctor during this time and let them know what you’re experiencing. They’ll be able to let you know if how you’re feeling is normal or a sign of concern.
  5. Most doctors won’t prescribe antidepressants without also requiring you to see a therapist. Many psychiatrists and family doctors will require you to see a psychotherapist before they write you a prescription. Make sure you talk to your doctor about their expectations for refilling your prescription, so you know what to expect.
  6. Many antidepressants don’t interact well with other medications. On antidepressants and have a bad cold? Taking cold medicine like TheraFlu or Nyquil is typically a big no-no. Always check with your doctor before taking over-the-counter medicines or supplements while on antidepressants, as they can have severe interactions.
  7. Antidepressants can have tricky side effects, including low sex drive, dizziness, and fatigue. These can make it difficult to work, be in a relationship, and/or keep up with obligations like volunteer work, all of which can make you more depressed. If your antidepressant isn’t making you feel good, talk to your doctor about trying a new one.
  8. You’ll likely have to try more than one before you find an antidepressant that works for you. This is a huge surprise and frustration for most people, but if you know it upfront, you can prepare for it and adjust your expectations accordingly.
  9. Sometimes antidepressants just stop working. This is perhaps the most aggravating thing about SSRIs—sometimes your body just stops responding to them. After finding a medication that works great, you might be back to your doctor in six months because you’re experiencing headaches, more severe depression, or increased anxiety.
  10. There’s less stigma than you think. Perhaps because antidepressants can be such tricky business, there are tons of online resources and support groups for people taking them. And, since one in four women—and one in six people overall—take antidepressants, it’s a safe bet that someone you know does, too. Don’t be afraid to talk to family and friends you trust about your choice to take antidepressants. Ask for their support in the process!
  11. It’s a frustrating process but it’ll be worth it. While taking antidepressants can be a frustrating process, they are also a very helpful tool for many people. After a difficult and traumatic year, I found that a combination of SSRI and anti-anxiety medication enabled me to go to work, process through my feelings more easily in therapy, and explore other ways to cope with panic and anxiety, including setting boundaries, journaling, a daily yoga practice, and morning and evening routines.
Danielle Alexander is a freelance writer, the owner of Grey Grey Books, an online shop for books, zines, and handmade journals, and the Managing Editor of Sundress Publication’s “The Wardrobe.” She lives and works in Portland, Oregon.