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What if Your Medication Doesn't Seem to Work?

First of all, if you have been prescribed medication for depression, you should be sure to take it exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Do not skip dosages or double-up on pills. Also, you must allow enough time for the medication to take effect. Many antidepressants can take up to several weeks to have a noticable effect on depressive symptoms.

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It is not uncommon for people to stop taking their medication for a variety of reasons. Mental health professionals recognize this as a significant problem as it often impacts the effectiveness of treatment. Some of the common reasons people have for stopping their medication include the following:

  • "I haven't noticed any improvement."
    Many medications work gradually and will often take between two to six weeks before you have any noticable improvements. It is important to take your medication as prescribed and allow some time before deciding that it is not working. Also keep in mind that you may experience some side effects before you have any relief from symptoms. This is not uncommon. If you have questions about how long it should take to experience a relief in symptoms speak with your doctor.
  • "I have been feeling good for some time now, and I don't believe I need medication any longer."
    This is one of the most common reasons people stop taking their medication. When we start to feel better, it is easy to believe we will continue to feel better. We may improvements in mood, energy, sleep, self-esteem, and interest in hobbies. However, once we begin to feel better, it is important to continue the medication for 4 to 9 months to prevent a recurrence of the depression. Some medications must be stopped gradually to give the body time to adjust. For individuals with bipolar disorder or chronic major depression, medication may have to be maintained indefinitely.
  • "I don't like that I have to take a drug to help me feel better."
    Sometimes it is helpful to remember that clinical depression is a medical condition. We generally have no objection to taking medicine in order to treat other serious conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, or migraine headaches. We should also consider medication to be a viable option for the treatment of depression, particularly since it has been shown to be very effective.
  • "I don't like the side effects."
    The newer antidepressants generally have fewer side effects than older drugs. Some side effects of antidepressants may include dry mouth, weight gain, constipation, drowsiness, and sexual problems. Many times, side effects lessen or even disappear as our bodies become used to the medication. Other times, side effects may be managed or tolerated fairly easily. More about side effects and how to manage them.
  • "There must be an alternative to medication."
    There has been increasing interest in alternatives to the treatment of depression. Of the herbal remedies, St. John's Wort has received the greatest attention, and some support for its effectiveness through research. Read more about alternatives to medication.

Do not stop taking your medication without consulting first with your doctor. By stopping prematurely you may not be giving the medication a chance to be effective. If you do not notice improvement in symptoms after 6-8 weeks, speak with your doctor about changing your dosage or type of medication.

What You Can Do...

If you suspect that your medication is not helping you to feel better, here are some things that you can do:

  • Consult with your doctor
    Speak with the doctor who prescribed your medication and let him/her know about your concerns.
  • Give it some more time
    It is understandable to want to feel better very quickly. The symptoms of depression can be very difficult to bear for any length of time.
  • Seek a second opinion
    With any medical condition, it may be useful to obtain a second opinion about causes, diagnosis, or treatment.
  • Keep a journal
    Sometimes people experience gradual improvements that are barely noticed over time. You might find it helpful to keep a journal so that you can track the severity of your symptoms over time.
    click here for a new browser window with an example of journal page.



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