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General Medical Questions
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Question : How long should a person taking antidepressants for depression stay on the medicine?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Michael Craig Miller, M.D., is Senior Editor of Mental Health Publishing at Harvard Health Publications. He is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Miller is in clinical practice at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he has been on staff for more than 25 years.

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July 22, 2013
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If antidepressant treatment for depression has been successful, you should probably continue taking it for six to nine months. Why continue? The risk of relapse is greatest in the first few months after a depressive episode.

This advice doesn’t apply to everyone taking antidepressants. Some people are particularly vulnerable to relapse. They may be better off taking their medicine indefinitely.

People who have had chronic problems with low mood are in this group. I would also include people who have had more than one episode of significant depression. Or people with other medical or psychiatric disorders.

Relapse is a problem for a couple reasons. First, depressive symptoms are distressing and uncomfortable. And if depression does recur, it may be harder to treat next time. So, you want to reduce your chance of having depression come back.

In other words, people who have more relapses may end up getting depressed more frequently. They also may have more intense symptoms. Antidepressant treatment may offset that trend.

At the six-month point, review the details of your situation with your doctor. Weigh the risk of continuing the medicine against the risk of relapse.

Those who have had only one episode of depression may choose to try going off treatment. Fortunately, if you already tolerate your medicine well or have few side effects, you are likely to continue to do well with the medicine over time.

If you decide to continue treatment, take the full, effective dose. Lower doses may not be as good at preventing relapse.

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