Experiences with antidepressants

Photo of two men talking

People with have very different experiences of antidepressants – both good and bad. They hope that the medication will improve their symptoms. But many people may also worry about side effects. It is important to discuss your concerns and expectations with your doctor.

Antidepressants can help some people to get through phases of . Others feel only a slight or no improvement, and some people stop taking them because of the side effects. Many people are reluctant to take medication for psychological problems, or they worry that they might become dependent on them.

Various things can influence the decision about taking antidepressants, including your experiences with medications for mental health problems, talks with doctors, and media reports. Some people refuse to take antidepressants on principle, while others simply follow their doctor’s advice and take the medication as prescribed. But many people carefully weigh the pros and cons of the medication.

What sort of reservations do people have about antidepressants?

People are often skeptical of antidepressants because they’re afraid of the side effects or of becoming dependent on the medication. But unlike many sleeping pills and sedatives, antidepressants don’t lead to physical dependence or addiction. Even so, people may have temporary problems like trouble sleeping and restlessness when they stop taking the medication.

Some people are bothered by the idea that they might not be able to beat without medication. They think of antidepressants as a kind of crutch, and think they would see themselves as being weak and helpless if they had to rely on them. Others question whether they really need the medication to feel better. They often change their minds, and their feelings might be contradictory.

Some people also worry that taking medication for a psychological problem means that they aren’t “normal.” But there is no reason to be ashamed of taking medication to treat psychological illnesses. It is no different from taking medication to treat a physical ailment.

How can I deal with my concerns?

It is important to discuss concerns openly with your doctor. Some people don’t dare to talk about their worries and reservations or to ask critical questions. It’s not always that easy because not every doctor gives you the feeling that they are open to that. But it’s important that you make joint decisions together with your doctor. That particularly means carefully weighing the pros and cons of the medications.

It could also help to get more information online or from books. In order to make the right decision for you and to cope with any problems that might come up when taking the medication, it’s essential that you get reliable information about the treatment. Along with advice from your doctor, you can also find more information and support from psychosocial counselors and support groups.

What experiences do people have when they are starting treatment?

Many people with symptoms decide to seek professional medical help on their own because they want to get back to living a normal life. Some are encouraged or even pressured to do so by worried friends or family.

One of the typical signs of is the feeling of being very down and hardly having any interest in things that are usually important to you. Because these symptoms are so distressing, it can be a relief if the doctor prescribes antidepressants. Many people would actually like to do without medication or try out other treatments first. But they're often very desperate and hope that antidepressants will lead to a quick improvement. The medications can also be a way of getting by while waiting to start psychotherapy.

Everyone wants the antidepressants to work as fast as possible. But it is important to know that most medications only start to have a noticeable effect after one to two weeks, sometimes even longer.

Side effects may arise, especially at the start of the treatment. Some people might stop taking the medication as a result. But you should keep in mind that the side effects can go away over time and that it's possible to get used to certain disadvantages.

What kind of positive experiences do people have?

For some people with , their medication becomes a part of their life. The treatment makes them feel better and their mood improves. They have the feeling that they are taking back control of their life, are more active and can manage everyday life on their own.

Some people also have hardly any or no side effects. The advantages of the treatment far outweigh any disadvantages. They feel like their medication helps them to stay emotionally stable.

If you’re going to take antidepressants regularly and for a long time, it’s important that you accept the illness and feel like the treatment is effective. If the positives of the medication outweigh the negatives, it's usually easier to deal with the side effects.

What kind of negative experiences do people have?

Some people get the impression that the treatment isn’t helping or has changed their personality, for instance because they feel emotionally numb. Some need to try out a lot of different medications before finding the right antidepressant. Others don't feel any better despite trying several different treatments and then end up very disappointed.

Negative experiences can also be due to side effects. They may be so bad that some people stop the treatment. Physical effects like dizziness, dry mouth or weight gain can be unpleasant. But that applies just as much to emotional side effects: Some people miss the variety and intensity of their emotions. The medications can also affect sexual desire.

It is not always clear whether these kinds of emotional changes are a result of the or side effects of the medication. Either way, people are more likely to stop treatment if they feel like the medication is having a negative effect on their emotional state.

What can help with problems during treatment?

Some people worry about taking too many medications, especially if they’re older and have several different health problems. Others are put off by the thought of possibly having to take medication for many years.

If you find it difficult to keep on taking antidepressants regularly for months or even years, various strategies might help. These include regularly talking to your doctor and having a trusting relationship with him or her. It’s also important to have enough good information about the medication in order to better understand how it works and why it needs to be taken regularly.

If the medication doesn’t work as expected or causes severe side effects, some people adjust the dose themselves. They might start taking less or more tablets for a while. Others stop taking the medication completely without talking to their doctor. That can lead to problems, because stopping the use of antidepressants suddenly often causes problems such as sleeplessness, nausea and restlessness. This can make the symptoms of worse. So it’s absolutely essential to discuss any problems with your doctor and not simply stop taking the medication. It might be possible to change the dose or try out a different medication.

Some people also stop the treatment because they feel better and think that they no longer need the medication once the symptoms have gone away. But to make sure that the symptoms and don’t come back, it’s important to carry on with the treatment as planned – for at least about six to twelve months, as continuation therapy. After that you can talk to your doctor about whether it makes sense to keep on taking the medication.

What information is important?

People who take antidepressants often wish that they had more and better information about the medication they have been prescribed. They want doctors to do the following:

  • Take their problems and worries seriously.
  • Tell them honestly and in detail about how long it will take for the medication to start working and what side effects it may have. Then they can be prepared and cope with it better.
  • Discuss alternatives and explain the pros and cons of the treatment in an understandable way. People may not be happy with their treatment if they are prescribed antidepressants without first being asked all about their symptoms and any possible causes, and without talking about other treatment options.
  • Explain the reasons for changing the dose.

Many people with have difficulty processing or remembering information and feel unable to make decisions. It can then be helpful to write down the information or take somebody that you trust along with you.

It also helps to take the time during symptom-free phases to think about how you feel about the treatment, and to discuss these feelings with your partner, family or friends.

Antidepressants: Neither happy pills nor placebos

Some media reports wrongly refer to antidepressants as happy pills. That can give people the wrong idea. The main thing to know is that antidepressants do not make people feel happy, and are not designed to: Their purpose is to help people with feel normal again. Some reports may claim that antidepressants are fundamentally ineffective and at best have a placebo effect, but that’s not true either. Studies have shown that they are effective in treating moderate to severe depression.

But you might still feel that the medication you are taking isn’t working. You can talk to your doctor about increasing the dose or trying out a different antidepressant.

These sorts of disappointments also happen with medicines for other illnesses. Antidepressants can increase the likelihood that you'll feel better, but there’s no guarantee. Sometimes the symptoms are so severe that antidepressants can't help much on their own.

Most people with don’t think of antidepressants as a miracle cure. Many have developed a very realistic idea of the medications' possibilities and limitations based on their experiences with them. They see antidepressants as a kind of aid or a safety net they can rely on when they need to. After all, most people would probably prefer not to take medication.

Anderson C, Roy T. Patient experiences of taking antidepressants for depression: a secondary qualitative analysis. Res Social Adm Pharm 2013; 9(6): 884-902.

Aselton PJ. The lived experience of college students who have been medicated with antidepressants [Dissertation]. 2010.

Bundesärztekammer, Kassenärztliche Bundesvereinigung (KBV), Arbeitsgemeinschaft der wissenschaftlichen medizinischen Fachgesellschaften (AWMF). Nationale Versorgungsleitlinie Unipolare Depression. AWMF-Registernr.: nvl-005. 2022.

Buus N, Johannessen H, Stage KB. Explanatory models of depression and treatment adherence to antidepressant medication: a qualitative interview study. Int J Nurs Stud 2012; 49(10): 1220-1229.

Dickinson R, Knapp P, House AO et al. Long-term prescribing of antidepressants in the older population: a qualitative study. Br J Gen Pract 2010; 60(573): e144-155.

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany). Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP): Pilotprojekt zur Erhebung von Patientenpräferenzen in der Indikation Depression; Working paper; Commission GA10-01. 2013.

Malpass A, Shaw A, Sharp D et al. "Medication career"or "moral career"? The two sides of managing antidepressants: a meta-ethnography of patients' experience of antidepressants. Soc Sci Med 2009; 68(1): 154-168.

Schofield P, Crosland A, Waheed W et al. Patients' views of antidepressants: from first experiences to becoming expert. Br J Gen Pract 2011; 61(585): 142-148.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

Comment on this page

What would you like to share with us?

We welcome any feedback and ideas - either via our form or by gi-kontakt@iqwig.de. We will review, but not publish, your ratings and comments. Your information will of course be treated confidentially. Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required fields.

Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

Über diese Seite

Updated on April 15, 2024

Next planned update: 2027


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

How we keep you informed

Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter or newsfeed. You can find all of our films online on YouTube.