Help – I’m Depressed but I’m Scared of Taking Antidepressants

June 11, 2012 Natasha Tracy

I remember, before trying medication, I was terrified of it. I had the same misconceptions that many people do:

  • Medication is for weak people
  • Antidepressants are just “happy drugs” designed for people who can’t handle life
  • Medication will ruin your brain
  • Doctors give out antidepressants like candy whether you need them or not

As it turns out, none of these things are true, but they sure seemed true at the time.

So I get fear of antidepressants and other medication. Psych medication is scary stuff.

But sometimes you have to face that fear in order to get better.

Antidepressants Don’t Work

There seems to be two fears among people who are considering antidepressants: antidepressants don’t do anything or antidepressants do too much. I understand both fears.

First of all, yes, antidepressants do work to treat depression, particularly moderate-to-severe depression. While many people will not be successfully treated by their first antidepressant the vast majority of people will be helped by a following antidepressant. So if the first one doesn’t work, don’t give up hope.

And as far as efficacy goes, there was a recent meta-analysis that indicates that antidepressants are about as effective as other medication used for internal medicine.

Antidepressants Harm You

I can understand this fear. Many people speak of psychiatric medication in very negative terms but it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, most people use psychiatric medication for a time, and then get off of it and never say a thing about it because they don’t want anyone to know. That is the common experience – nothing of great interest to report.

Because properly used, antidepressants can be effective with minimal side effects. Yes, some people are harder to treat than others and those patients who are harder to treat may require more medication and that ups the side effects, but most aren’t in that group. Many people can take one medication, in a normal dosage range, and get better.

And, to the best of my knowledge, there is no side effect of antidepressants that continues after you stop taking the drug. In other words, if a side effect develops with which you can’t live, you can always reduce the dose or get off the drug entirely.

[Update: one reader reminded me that there are additional risks, including mania, associated with treating people with bipolar disorder with antidepressants. Not all doctors agree on this but I have written about the controversy here. See about the dangers of misdiagnosis here.]

Black Box Warning

One commenter mentioned the black box warning on antidepressants and I wanted to briefly address it. A black box warning is the most strong warning that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can place on a product and they did so because there were reports of people, possibly, getting increased symptoms on antidepressants and reports of people taking their own lives. The FDA, rightly, did not want to wait for all the data to come in on this situation and so they placed a warning on all antidepressants.

I can say that some have found the data does not support the fact that there is an increased risk of suicide in adults when compared to those who have not been treated and their risk of suicide. That being said, antidepressants can cause side effects in people that may agitate them or worsen their condition and the final result may be suicide so it's important when starting antidepressants to be closely monitored by a healthcare professional.

(It's important to note this warning is especially important for those under the age of 18.)

Taking a Leap

All that being said, it still takes a leap of faith to try something new, especially something scary like putting a medication into your body, so it’s all about the pros and cons. Are the possible pros of taking the medication work the possible cons? How sick are you today? Have you tried other treatments? Are you in therapy? Have you attempted suicide? What will happen if you choose not to get treatment?

And one of the best ways I know to combat these worries is to have a doctor you trust with whom to discuss you fears. You absolutely have a right to be scared and it’s a reasonable thing to feel but sooner or later you’re going to have to make a decision and I would recommend that you let facts guide that decision and not fear.

[As an aside, regardless as to whether you feel antidepressants are for you, every person with depression should try therapy, particularly cognitive behavioural therapy, as that can help many people.]

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2012, June 11). Help – I’m Depressed but I’m Scared of Taking Antidepressants, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Patricia Bosley
June, 11 2012 at 1:43 pm

Deep down always I knew that something was wrong with me so once diagnosed I couldn't wait to get on medication. I felt like it would change my life and they did... for the better! I am no longer depressed or hyper active. I'm even quite boring but I can live with that!

Natasha Tracy
June, 11 2012 at 1:54 pm

Hi Patricia,
Yes, some people find the diagnosis quite freeing. It's great you had such a positive experience.
- Natasha

June, 11 2012 at 2:46 pm

I was very happy to start on psychiatric meds, those and my diagnoses as bipolar brought me a real sense of relief. I finally knew what was wrong and that something could be done about it.

June, 11 2012 at 3:35 pm

Hmm i wish i could agree with some of the blog but i cannot.
No side effects from antidepressants and you can just reduce the dose or stop taking them.Thats dangerously naive at best.If you have neuroses or moderate depression thats the case but then therapy is a much better treatment for that, you actually don't need the drugs and therapy will treat the causes especially CBT and not just the symptoms which medication can reduce.
My own experience is anti-psychotic drugs have massive side effects ie paralysis and eventually long term use will lead to death(okay it will take about 5 years but there you go.
With severe depression due to medication you get effects like inability to eat no matter how hungry you get and if you stop taking them is like going cold turkey,sweats vomiting diarrhea.YesAd work to get you to a point where therapy can help to sort your issues out if you really want to put in the work and it worked for me for eight years and i survived things that a lot of people who have never had a mental illness would have been broken by.
Plus you need to be Sherlock Holmes to find a doctor you can trust and even he couldn't find a psychiatrist that has any ideas apart from which drug they are paid to promote and have a total inability to understand that 5 years medical training will totally overwhelm the one year physc training.

Natasha Tracy
June, 11 2012 at 3:47 pm

Hi Patrick,
You have not said there are any side effects that are permanent for anything but antipsychotics - and I agree with you, there is a chance that antipsychotics _can_ cause a permanent side effect of a movement disorder. However, that is not what we're talking about - we're talking about antidepressants.
As for and "inability to eat" that isn't remotely true. Some people may find nausea is a side effect, but not being able to eat? That's _extremely_ uncommon, and yes, that would be a time when you would decrease the dose or get off the medication.
- Natasha Tracy

Kellie Holly
June, 11 2012 at 8:00 pm

I never thought antidepressants would hurt me, but I did so hope I could go through life without them. I wanted to be "normal" back then. But now I know that I feel more "normal" on them than off. If I take a pill for the rest of my life to feel normal, then that's what I'll happily do. Besides, most of my feelings were due to a stigma held by my ex. Without him in the picture, I'm free to be me! :)

Alicia Hendley (@AliciaHendley)
June, 12 2012 at 1:56 pm

I think one of the main things is getting the correct diagnosis, in order to receive the best treatment. For me, I was given an SSRI for a moderate major depressive episode, not knowing that I had an underlying vulnerability to Bipolar II Disorder. The antidepressant helped to trigger a very debilitating episode of hypomania (bordering on mania), which took two months to come down from. That said, now that they know my proper diagnosis, a low dose of an SSRI added to my mood stabilizer does wonders. It's hard, because diagnosis is really an art, more than a science (I say this as a psychologist, so not totally in the dark!). : )

Natasha Tracy
June, 12 2012 at 2:17 pm

Hi Alicia,
I agree with you, being properly diagnosed can be a challenge, particularly if you have bipolar disorder. When I wrote this, I never intended it to take into account incorrect diagnosis, but this is always a risk.
And yes, I can definitely see the art in it, and I don't mean that in a negative way - it just means that we're all different and experience mental illness differently so it can be difficult to pinpoint individual illnesses.
- Natasha

June, 13 2012 at 2:25 pm

Hi Natasha,
In my response i was relating my personal experience of both anti-physcotics and Ad's.I couldn't say if there are permanent side effects as it could be the Ad's or it could be my condition but when i was on AD's i was told by all the medical people that stopping taking them(which was my only option) and not tapering them would lead to side effects(it said the same on the literature that came with them) and i had the not being able to eat due to constant nausea,then had night sweats,feelings of paranoia,diarrhea and vomiting for two weeks
I was lucky i had a friend who was studying to be a mental health nurse and he had access the uk "bible on drugs and he told me what would happen.
My experience was weird because i didn't "choose"(if thats the right word) to be ill but i did make a conscious decision to get better and fought to get CBT and with that i survived and actually prospered for about eight years.
Nowi live with hallucinations and blackouts,fear self loathing,guilt.
Its amazing in a country with a National health service that i paid into for 25 years even being suicidal i cant even get prescribed Ad's.

June, 14 2012 at 4:23 am

I'm surprised you don't mention that anti-depressants carry a black box warning from the FDA because their use can cause a pronounced risk for suicide and aggression. The black box warning came about in large part due to the courageous testimony of bereaved family members like the Winters, testifying here before the FDA:
A bereaved mom in New Zealand, who lost her son to SSRI-induced suicide, is spear-heading a movement to promote safer treatment methods. Her loss inspired her to found Community Action on Suicide Prevention and Research (CASPER).
There are many anecdotes about how helpful SSRIs have been for depressed folks. There are also many anecdotes about how SSRIs have destroyed lives and families. Readers here need a balanced persepective so that they can make an informed choice about whether or not to try these drugs.

Natasha Tracy
June, 14 2012 at 7:29 am

Hi Suzanne,
You're right, I should have mentioned the black box warning. I suppose it feels like such common knowledge in my mind, my fingers just overlooked it. That's no excuse, however.
I will add an addendum to the article that mentions it.
- Natasha

February, 21 2013 at 1:18 pm

my gf is getting ready to start taking medication for depression and is very worried it will make her worse before it makes her there anything i can do or say to help ease her through this tough time?

February, 21 2013 at 7:08 pm

Well steve, you could make her breakfast (if she likes that kind of thing). My hubby did that for me :)

February, 22 2013 at 5:11 pm

In my own experience -- about 8-10 different antidepressants over the course of 15 years of treatment -- I've found them to be of little value, with significant long-term side affects (weight gain, worsening mental health, and hearing loss/tinnitus). I regret ever starting the medications. My advice to individuals considering them is to carefully examine their circumstances and pursue alternative therapies (such as therapy) before trying anti-depressants. If you;d like to consider a factual, scientific assessment of the efficacy of antidepressants, consider the following:
It's quite detailed and may be slow going for some, but well worth reading it carefully. One of their bottom line conclusions is, quite simply, "Despite the pervasive belief regarding the effectiveness of antidepressants and cognitive therapy (CT) among physicians and society at large, STAR*D shows that antidepressants and CT fail to result in sustained positive effects for the majority of people who receive them."
Depression and other mental health disorders can be intensely disabling, more than those who don't suffer from them can imagine. Don't waste time and damage your physical and mental health with medications that fail to help the majority of individuals who take them.

February, 23 2013 at 1:28 am

SSRIs didn't work for me, I got sent into a manic psychosis, because I have bipolar disorder. That doesn't mean that I can speak for the many whose lives have been saved by the same medication.

September, 21 2014 at 9:47 am

There is no real diagnosis for needing an anti depressant. Depression is a part of life some just choose to face it

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

January, 21 2018 at 8:27 pm

Bull! Anyone who says something like that, doesn't have a clue to what depression is. It's a brain disease! You don't think that Parkinson patients don't need treatment, they just have to face it, do you? Evidence is piling that stress damages the prefrontal cortex, the area in the brain that regulates a.o. Serotonin and Dopamin levels. Some people are born more susceptible to stress and it's consequences than others, just like some people are born with the potential to become genius and some not. Saying what you said has no use, [moderated]

October, 30 2015 at 1:49 pm

We all agree that when a person is experiencing depression, the best thing is to get help. It is true that antidepressants have many side effects, nobody has mentioned sexual side effects, which are very common. At the end of the game, the most important thing is to get better . There are natural alternatives as well that may help with depression, such as saffron extract 2% safrananl which clinical studies have compared to Prozac. Only 30 mg of saffron is equivalente to 20 mg of fluoxetine or 100 mg of imipramine. Like with anything else, please consult your doctor before taking any dietary supplement.

November, 18 2015 at 7:56 pm

It goes against my nature to say that medication can help those with mental disorders, but in some cases this may be true. Unfortunately my reasoning behind this is one that has taken a step towards ruining my life. When I was in my early twenties I was given a dosage of Amytriptaline (not confident in that spelling) for chronic depression, which admittedly was not as bad them as it is now. I had a significant other at the time, and I noticed after a month of taking the prescribed dosage that I was having an increasingly difficult time performing sexually. I confronted my doctor about this and he told me that this was common with anti-depressants and in individuals who have depression and told me that it wasn't something to be too worried about as I could always try something else. I have not been able to have an erection since, even after having quit the drug a month later. This has ruined three relationships, and has worsened my depression. I am now 32. Suffice to say I cannot recommend that particular drug, nor any other as therapy would have been a better option tenfold.
Thankyou for taking the time to read this.

January, 18 2016 at 10:55 pm

Ok, I've been through the wringer in life and last month was given meds to take after a psych doc (during a half hour meeting, that's it) gave me seralatrin (wrong spelling Zoloft? ?), but it's been a month and afraid to take it.
Partiality due to side effects (esp the unknowns on blood clotting as I had two last year and am prone to them) and partially cause i don't know why.
Plus my abusive dad is bipolar, some of your guys comments scare the hall out of me.
My life is in a horrible place, I am in such a bad spot, waiting on disability having no family or friends.
Therapy is not possible as the state doc retired right after I finally got in it will take 6 months to find a replacement and the place locally I had home before would not take me as I have thier info to social security? ?
So until insurance switches in Feb have no choice and even then i have a hard time doing things from my past, codependent nature, abuse at the hands of a narcissist..
Help? I don't want to feel like this anymore but I'm so scared. Should I take it?

January, 20 2016 at 4:32 pm

Tom. I was the same way. Still am. But I finally took Klonopin and Seraquel and they have helped. I don't have the very deep anxiety and depression and I am getting a very good 7 hours of sleep. I started jogging again and am only taking half doses. About 0.50 MG of Klonopin and 40 MG of Seraquel. That is just me.
You probably need some therapy, even if you have to pay it. Also, if you can, start walking and smiling and waving to passerbys.
I would like to get off the meds. I will do it slowly. If you doubt Zoloft, then I would get a second opinion.

March, 7 2016 at 1:52 pm

I'd recommend finding a way dealing with any problems rather than taking the drugs. There's no magic pill, it's just a money maker for the pharmaceutical companies. I've tried many antidepressants and none of them worked, they made me worse. I've had lasting side effects in the form of severely decreased libido, decreased sensation, IBS, insomnia, nerves, dry eyes, hair loss, excessively oily scalp and weak brittle nails. This was from venlafaxine which ruined my appetite to the point I was admitted to hospital with abdominal pains, pumped with morphine, left on a trolley bed in a corridor, then told they weren't convinced I had pain. I was on that drug for over two years with doctors telling me you need to persevere to start to feel the benefits. I thought I was being weak and pathetic for struggling to cope with the side effects which shows what it can do to your mind. Coming off it was awful due to the withdrawal symptoms. I was in the red on the BMI scale and the doctors were no help when I expressed concern and asked about inducing appetite or at least dealing with the nausea. I think the drugs have done something to my digestive tract which has changed the way my body is absorbing nutrients. You're not supposed to take them on an empty stomach but they make you feel too ill to eat, if you eat then take the pills you bloat and vomit, if you don't take the pills you get withdrawal symptoms.. It's a vicious circle. I came off them 12 years ago by the way and have a look online now and then to see if anyone else has had a similar experience and had any joy finding natural ways to deal with the lasting side effects.

Dr Musli Ferati
March, 11 2016 at 3:45 pm

Antidepressant medication exhibits the main and crucial step on current psychiatric treatment of numerous mental disorders. Even depressive disorders are primary indication for antidepressant therapy, the specter of theirs introduction is more wide, beginning from common anxiety disorder till hard and serious psychotic entities. Antidepressant drugs as widespread therapy include many side and unpredictable effect to patients with respective depressive phenomenology, because this complex mental disorder has got many etiologic, diagnostic, therapeutic and prognostic implications, that evolve up to date psychiatric treatment and management of depressive syndrome. In addition, antidepressant are strong and dangerous drugs, with specific dosage and longevity of their application. Their adjustment seek careful and individual approach from clinical psychiatrist. Approved guidelines are useful way to prevent unkind side effects of antidepressant medication, but restablishment of therapeutic alliance is precursor of satisfactory and efficient psychiatric treatment of any type of depressive disorders. Another aspect of antidepressant treatment is the ability of therapist to deal with many side effect of antidepressant, which ones compromise seriously following treatment. Antidepressant drugs are very prone to interact with others drugs, such are antihypertensives, corticosteroids, analgetics, psychotropics, betablockers and so on. They interact with many nourish products. These and many others warnings of antidepressant medication should be in consideration to increase their therapeutic compliance and adherence, in order to install comprehensive psychiatric treatment of depression.

March, 31 2016 at 12:24 pm

I've been on a number of meds and they made me suicidal. I'm in a nervous break down right now and really scared of being put back on something

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