Antidepressant therapy should not be taken with a set-it-and-forget-it mindset. This category of medication works best when the patient is an active participant in the therapy. When someone picks up an antidepressant medication for the first time at our pharmacy, I always spend some time with them describing to them how it works. Depression is real. When your neurotransmitters (the message carrying chemicals in your brain) become low for some reason, your body may receive mixed signals about emotion, behavior, body temperature, and many other functions we take for granted. This process of decreased and mixed signals about how we feel may sometimes be diagnosed as depression. We discuss the neurotransmitter function so the patient has a general understanding of what neurotransmitters are. We also discuss how the medication will help elevate and then balance the level of neurotransmitters in their system.
The patient needs to understand that this is not an overnight success story. It may take 7-14 days for the neurotransmitters to become balanced, and a good five weeks before they see how well this particular dose is going to work for them. At that point, the patient will visit with doctor and discuss if they have gotten to where they need to be or if the dose needs to be adjusted.
It is important to realize that psychotherapy goes hand in hand with antidepressant medication treatment. This is crucial for two reasons; first, your therapist will help you see and understand what it was that triggered the decrease in neurotransmitters and led to the depression, and second, it is a good idea to have a non-biased, third party, that you can discuss with how well the medication is working. They will help you define where you need to get to and help you know when you are there.
This is the point I was trying to make with my walking analogy at the beginning of this discussion. If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there? Many people will take anti-depressant medications for years. This is appropriate if they are under a doctor’s care and are regularly following up with their psychotherapist to make certain the medication is still helping them get to where they need to be. If you have made it there and are comfortable, it is reasonable to discuss the option with your doctor about tapering off of the medication.
While you or your loved one is taking one of these anti-depressant medications, it is a wonderful idea to learn as much as you can about how the medication works and all of the other counseling information associated with your particular medication.
About the Author
Dr. Steve Leuck is the owner and founder of AudibleRx, medication specific counseling sessions and relevant pharmacy topics provided in audio format.