Why I'm Planning To Stop Taking Antidepressants
In this blog post, I am going to explain my personal experience with antidepressants and then outline why I am planning to stop taking them entirely. Then, in upcoming blog posts, I will provide some research about alternative, more sustainable methods I have come across for managing depression (such as improved nutrition, increased social engagement, and intentional cannabis use).
This article is written based on my own personal experience as well as recent research I have conducted on depression. I am not a medical professional; rather, by sharing my own experiences, both positive and negative, I seek to influence and inspire others to take control of their own mental health. I am also not advising that anybody need to stop taking antidepressants if that strategy is working for them. I share this post to convey why I’ve decided that antidepressants aren’t right for me. All that said, please ensure that if you do change your medication dose that you are doing so under doctor supervision.
Statistics tell me that I am far from alone when it comes to living with depression; in fact, CNN recently covered how the rate of juvenile suicidal ideation doubled between 2007 and 2015 . Additionally, my experience with personal and professional relationships highlights that many young adults currently grapple with depression, and I know that this phenomenon is certainly common among older adults, as well.
With this in mind, I want to share my current journey, plans I have to strengthen my mental health through more natural means, and resources that I have found on the subject. Hopefully, this article proves useful to you as you take your next step toward improved mental clarity and healing.
So, I Feel Weird, Y’all...
Before I really dive into this topic, I just want to share an honest concern. The truth is that I feel nervous writing about my personal experience with antidepressants because of the stigma that typically surrounds the discussion of mental health issues. I worry about getting called a liberal snowflake, having people from my personal or professional sphere judge me, or just risk sharing TMI. And most of all, I don’t want to sound like a wanna-be-martyr just for talking about my depression.
But I truly think this is a relevant topic right now. I am currently living in Seattle, a city that is sadly showing visible signs of decay - a decay that is representative of the poor mental health status of many of Seattle’s inhabitants. Signs of homelessness and heavy addiction are everywhere throughout the city and neither lawmakers nor citizens can agree on how to fix the problem. One of the only clear things is that a lot of people are suffering right now.
Oh hey, you’re still here. Thanks a lot! Cause honestly, if we can’t talk about depression and how it impacts us as individuals as well as our society, then we sure as hell can’t change it!
My Personal Experience with Antidepressants
My experience with antidepressants has had highs and lows. I think antidepressants helped me climb out of a tough situation a few years ago when I needed a big change; in retrospect, I am glad that I had chemical support to help me deal with my emotions at that time. However, now, I have learned to cope in new ways and am willing to look into a different route toward optimal mental health.
Additionally, I have been doing some reading on the long term negative effects associated with sustained use of antidepressants. As a result, on my recent vacation to Japan, I decided that the time had come to audit my overall plan for the future of my mental health. In the near future, I wanted to wean off of antidepressants completely and substitute medication for more natural remedies, including cannabis and meditation.
Great intentions, right?
However, my initial execution to get off of antidepressants was pretty flawed. DO NOT do what I did because I made a dangerous mistake and started to either skip my antidepressant pill on random days during my vacation and then went a few days upon my homecoming without taking any medication.
To suddenly stop taking my medication - this was an ill-founded decision, and it was also ill-timed. I complicated my ability to monitor how I really felt because this change coincided with international travel, jet lag, and notably more fried food and beer than my body is typically acquainted to these days.
And then, when I got home to Seattle, I suddenly felt terrible. I wasn’t sure if my malaise was a result of the dietary changes, the long days of travel, or just the post-vacation blues. The passages in my journal had a different tone than usual and I noted that I did not feel social at all (which is unusual for me). I experienced tears, anguish, a lack of motivation to do anything, and some severe sleep problems; suddenly I couldn’t fall asleep until the sun was coming up! Finally, it hit me - I was feeling crummy because of the rapid reduction of my antidepressant dose. My brain was literally going through drug withdrawal.
If withdrawal symptoms can seriously impact a young woman like me who is sociable, educated, financially secure, and well-taken care of, then consider the implications of withdrawal symptoms plaguing somebody who is living through trauma, homelessness, or other situations that further reduce their physical and mental safety. This could push someone to the brink.
Last summer, one of my guy friends told me, “You’re one of the most intelligent people I know, but you don’t always do things that are smart”. Trying to quit antidepressants cold turkey definitely falls into the “not smart” camp. Even though I hadn’t experienced severe depression symptoms prior to the vacation, I should have realized that two years on Prozac didn’t just cure me of depression.
In fact, one of the primary issues with simply taking antidepressants to manage depression is that the medication does nothing to identify the root cause or address the underlying triggers of depression. Instead, all antidepressants do is mask the pain of depression a little bit. It makes life challenges more tolerable, at least for a time.
While I am glad that I now understand why I wasn’t feeling well after my vacation, I know also know that I have a lot of work ahead of me in order to regain full control over my mental health.
But I am hopeful. Since this little “slip-up”, I have done some substantial research about natural and sustainable methods for managing depression (more on this soon!). I have also discussed my intentions with my doctor and have an approved plan for how to safely reduce my medication dose over the coming 6 weeks.
Why Do I Want to Get Off Antidepressants?
The Scientific Response
As I briefly alluded to above, antidepressants don’t solve the root of why someone is living with depression or anxiety. As a result, medicated patients may be under the impression that by taking antidepressants, they are doing everything required in order to manage their mental health. However, this “pharmacy-first” approach doesn’t encourage patients to complete the deeper, inner work required to actually improve their condition.
After listening to last night’s episode of the 10% Happier Podcast last night, entitled “Fighting Depression with Social Connection”, I have also realized that not all depression is caused by biological factors. Rather, depression is often three-pronged, and is resultant from the state of our biology, psychology, and social environment. Therefore, we need to outline alternative solutions to depression that aren’t solely focused on addressing the biological aspects of the illness through pharmaceuticals.
Antidepressants also present a risk to patients because they can be habit forming and also result in worse long-term outcomes. Other risks to patients include (ready for this?): gut disturbance, liver toxicity, weight gain, heart problems, urinary problems, sexual dysfunction (for both men or women), salt imbalance, osteoporosis/bone weakening, bleeding, nervous system dysfunction, sweating, sleep disturbances, mood changes, eye disease, hormonal imbalance, pregnancy/breastfeeding risk, and cancer risk.
There has got to be a better way!
The Societal Response
Increased Rates of Suicidal Ideation
Sorry to jump right to something so morose, but I think the recent statistics call for it. There is a lot of research coming out that links antidepressant use with a risk of suicidal thoughts.
For example, this article highlights that once an antidepressant medication has helped someone overcome helplessness and regain their agency and faculties, they may actually be at increased risk of suicidal thoughts.
Additionally, medical scholars are also aware of the fact that when people stop taking SSRI’s after the brain has become accustomed to them, it is not uncommon for people to experience suicidal thoughts out of the blue. In fact, up to 80% of people will experience negative withdrawal symptoms if antidepressants are are suddenly cut out of someone’s diet after sustained use.
The National Center for Health Research cites, “The additional risks of antidepressants first became clear in research on children, and in the fall of 2004, the FDA issued a warning that children and adolescents taking antidepressant medications might experience increased suicidal thoughts and behaviors. In June 2005, this warning was extended to include young adults up to age 25. That’s because studies showed that children and adolescents taking antidepressants were almost twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts or to attempt suicide, compared to patients taking a sugar pill.“
I do not necessarily think that this statement calls for the end of antidepressant prescriptions, however, I think it highlights that as a society, we need to take a step back and analyze whether or not antidepressants should always be the first-line of defense against depression.
Increased Violence In Society
Use of antidepressants has also been linked to an increase in violence among both children and adults. Unfortunately, I don’t think this reality is surprising given the amount of inexplicable shootings in public places that have taken place in recent years. Since I have become an adult, we have seen atrocities committed at Sandy Hook, Parkland, Aurora, Orlando, Pittsburg, South Carolina, and many more. In 2014, there was a fatal school shooting at Marysville’s Mount Pilchuck High School, 30 miles north of Seattle, where both my niece and nephew were attending school at the time. Even just this week, the ugly legacy of Columbine reared it’s head again when an 18-year-old girl, infatuated with the events at Columbine of 20 years ago, threatened schools in the Denver community and then was found dead by apparent suicide. Put simply, violence is becoming more and more prevalent in American society, so I don’t think we can afford to look away from the fact that antidepressants may be playing a role here.
My Personal Response
For me, layered on top of the scientific and societal reasons to audit my use of antidepressants, there is also an economic component to my desire to reduce my intake. Now that I am self-employed, I have transitioned onto my husband’s health insurance plan. For whatever reason, this means that my monthly prescription went from $0.00 a month to a whopping $150.00 copay per month. I am lucky in that this $150.00 is not necessarily a make-or-break fee for me, but the cognitive dissonance of paying so much for a medication that I know could be waging long-term damage on my mind and body is not something that I want to continue to live with.
Finally, my husband and I are planning to have a baby within the next couple of years, should we be blessed with a child after trying to conceive. While I have been told that antidepressants don’t necessarily impact pregnancy or a fetus, I have come across other articles that cite potential risks. For this reason, I intend to pursue more natural and social remedies for my depression.
In the coming weeks, I will be posting a follow up article outlining some of the natural remedies I will be pursuing to sustainably enhance my mental health. I will also share some insights from influential thought-leaders that are promoting new, novel ways to combat depression.