Coming Off Tablets... The Fear Of The Unknown

Approximately 10 percent of women over the age of 18 take some form of antidepressants. 

As part of our on-going series on mental health, here we write about what happens when you are well enough to come off your medication.
Approximately 10 percent of women over the age of 18 take some form of antidepressants. As many of us know, these medications can be a lifesaver when depression or anxiety has robbed life of its joy and made it hard to muster the energy and concentration to complete everyday tasks.
But as you begin to feel better and want to move on, how long should you keep taking them?
If you're doing well on medication and not complaining of too many side effects, many GP will renew the prescription indefinitely, figuring that it may act as a deterrent for a relapse of depression.
But side effects that you may have been willing to put up with temporarily like sexual side effects (decreased desire and difficulty reaching orgasm), headache, insomnia, drowsiness, vivid dreams, or just not feeling like yourself — can become less manageable over time, especially if you have been feeling good for quite some time.
The decision to come off medication should be considered thoughtfully and made with the support of your GP and/or therapist to make sure you're not stopping prematurely, risking a relapse.
Once you decide to quit, you and your GP should take steps to minimize any side effects that can happen if you come off your dose too quickly.
The daunting feeling of coming off them
Coming off medication can be a scary thought for some, especially if they have helped immensely in treating depression or anxiety. There is a fear you won't survive without them. But by communicating these thoughts with your GP, it will ensure that you come off them at the right time, for the right reasons and in the right way.

Antidepressants work by altering the levels of neurotransmitters — chemical messengers that attach to receptors on neurons (nerve cells) throughout the body and influence their activity. Neurons eventually adapt to the current level of neurotransmitters, and symptoms that range from mild to distressing may arise if the level changes too much too fast — for example, because you've suddenly stopped taking your antidepressant. They're generally not medically dangerous but may be uncomfortable.
Fear of addiction

Antidepressant withdrawal is possible if you abruptly stop taking your medication, particularly if you've been taking it longer than four to six weeks. Symptoms of antidepressant withdrawal typically last for a few weeks. Certain antidepressants are more likely to cause withdrawal symptoms than others.
Quitting an antidepressant suddenly may cause symptoms within a day or two, like...
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia or vivid dreams
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Irritability
  • Flu-like symptoms, including achy muscles and chills
  • Nausea
  • Electric shock sensations
  • Return of initial symptoms
Having antidepressant withdrawal symptoms doesn't mean you're addicted to an antidepressant. Addiction represents harmful, long-term chemical changes in the brain. It's characterised by intense cravings, the inability to control your use of a substance and negative consequences from that substance use. Antidepressants don't cause these issues.
A person who is addicted craves the drug and often needs increasingly higher doses. Few people who take antidepressants develop a craving or feel a need to increase the dose. 
As daunting as some of these symptoms may sound, you shouldn't let them discourage you if you want to come off your antidepressant. Many of the symptoms can be minimized or even prevented by gradually lowering the dose over weeks to months.
Seek support
Stay in touch with your GP as you go through the process. Let them know about any physical or emotional symptoms that could be related to discontinuation. If the symptoms are mild, you'll probably be reassured that they're just temporary, the result of the medication clearing your system. If symptoms are severe, you might need to go back to a previous dose and reduce the levels more slowly.

Just remember to communicate to the ones around you. If you feel you can’t confide in anyone there are a plethora of free phone numbers you can get confidential support from. You are not alone.

Laura Doyle, Mum of 4. Kyle 9, Noa Belle 4, Briar 2 and Milla 12 months. Breastfeeder, co-sleeper, coffee drinker. Staying positive and inspired by the chaos of it all. Follow her on Instagram.


Laura Doyle

Mum of four, Gentle parent living on coffee and trying always to stay positive and motivate in the midst of the madness.

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