How to safely get off your depression medications
Updated: Aug 12
I went through a really bad patch in life during the early '90s. My life was a mess. My business was struggling, my marriage was broken, I was a sole parent of three children, I felt terribly alone and I was broke and might have to sell the house. On top of that, I had run myself into the dirt physically and even my heart was struggling. I had a mental breakdown. The doctor prescribed medication which I dutifully began to take. It had no effect that I could tell but I kept taking i. I took my children on a road trip. Unknown to me, my toddler son found my pills in the back of the car and he swallowed the lot! High as a kite and drifting into unconsciousness, a hasty diversion was made to the nearest hospital where his stomach was pumped and he was observed overnight. That was the last of the pills - no more no matter the need! On reflection, my son did me a favour.
I was forced to confront the "Root Causes" of my ills. I was forced to clean up my life and not to just ignore the mess with the help of some pills.
My life was trash. It was chaotic and I was incapable of sorting through the mess. I did not know where to start. I was being bombarded left, right and centre. I had no idea what to do. My brain was mush. When I look back on it, I still wonder how I survived this terrible time of my life. I was an emotional basket case and I did some really stupid things.
I was burdened by
Duty and obligations to everyone else other than myself.
Trying to please everyone.
Not knowing how to say, "No!"
Confusion, including bad decisions.
Physical exhaustion and ill health.
But that is all in the past. It is nothing for me to feel ashamed of and it is interesting to reflect on what got me through the hard times.
So what got me through?
Unconditional family support. My brothers and sisters rallied behind me despite my stupidity and my siblings being spread wide and far.
Community support, including help with meals, housework, and childcare. In my case, the Tongan community really stepped up to help me out.
People willing to lend an ear in a non-judgemental way.
Cuddles and hugs.
Counselling services, but ones that were focussed on generating action - positive change, including help with emotional and physical decluttering of my life. Thank you to the Sisters of Compassion here in Wellington for seeing that I was in trouble, reaching out and arranging this for me - amazing!
Saying "No!" to everything other than what is really necessary.
Time out. Extended periods of rest with ample time for reflection. This included "going bush" for several weeks at a time with the children (Special thanks to Pakirikiri Marae in Tokomaru Bay, for taking us in).
Time itself. As the days, months, then years passed, things gradually improved but I had to work on it. Time heals even the deepest of wounds - with a little help from outside!
I later discovered the importance of nutritional support, guided by testing, but that was about 10 years later and it was the icing on the cake for my recovery.
Mood-altering drugs do not heal deep psychosocial wounds, nor do they declutter a messed-up life.
Our love affair with the "Magic Bullet"
The United States takes the award for being the most over-medicated country in the world. New Zealand is not far behind. We could say this is thanks to the allowing of direct to consumer advertising of prescription medications. This kind of advertising, mostly by television, is intended to normalise drugs-taking and to brainwash the entire population into thinking that there is a drug out there, the Magic Bullet to solve all of our woes. Of course, no such drug exists.
Along with statins, asthma and thyroid meds, antidepressants are the most common drugs I come across almost daily during my health promotion work. What becomes quickly obvious about antidepressants is how addictive they can be for many people. In just a matter of weeks of a person taking these drugs, they may be developing a chemical dependency. If they cut back to a certain minimum dose or less, the symptoms of anxiety and depression may come back, but not just come back, they may come back with a vengeance, requiring the dosage to be increased. This can set off a depressing cycle of cutting back or stopping, only to have to resume the medication, then attempting to wean off again and failing each time. The symptoms of antidepressant withdrawal may persist for as long as a year. If stopping the meds is to be done, it must be done properly.
Please carefully read these articles for background before reading the rest of what I have written here
While the original reason for going onto an antidepressant in the first place, such as not handling a marriage breakup very well (who does?), has long gone many years ago the need for the drug remains, sustained by the very drug itself. When you think about it, it is the perfect consumer product because it creates its own need, then punishes those who try to stop!
But wait a moment - it's complicated
Depression is seldom caused by a single thing, a single factor. Think of the "Perfect Storm". The catastrophic Perfect Storm happens when several adverse events come together all at once (King tide, offshore storm, onshore wind, heavy rainfall inland, deforestation, etc). In the case of depression, the following may be contributors:
Nutrient imbalances such as excessive copper and low zinc. Deficiency of fat-soluble vitamins and more.
Exposure to toxins such as lead and arsenic.
Addictions, chemical and behavioural.
Unresolved infections, such as gum disease that may be subclinical and go undetected or untreated for many years.
Metabolic disorders such as hypothyroidism and adrenal fatigue. Very common - epidemic!
Unresolved psychological trauma such as might happen during childhood and one's teens, the loss of a loved one or being sent to war.
Physical trauma, not fully resolved, especially to the brain.
Abusive or unhappy relationships.
Feeling unwanted, not belonging to or feeling accepted by "The Group".
Uncertainty or lack of direction and challenge in life.
Under and over-exercising.
Biorhythm dysfunction such as happens with shift work, having a baby, travel across time-zones.
Not physically and mentally connected with Mother Nature on a daily basis.
Lack of daily sunlight exposure.
Success begins with identifying every single possible contributor to whatever ails a person, no matter how insignificant it may appear, because if it combines with one or more others, it may actually be the one thing that determines success or failure of every other measure.
There is no Magic Bullet
For all chronic health issues, there is no magic bullet, there is no singular cure and there never will be.
The causes of chronic health issues, including mental health, are just too many and too complicated for there ever to be a single solution. These are complex health issues, unlike an infection that may be cured by an antibiotic. While a medication such as an antidepressant may be necessary to rescue an acute situation the same medication is unlikely to "cure" the depression. Symptoms may be suppressed but the underlying contributes remain unaffected and continue to be active.
If, for example, you have lead or cadmium sequestered deep within your body, and nothing is done to safely get rid of it, no amount of counselling or medicating is going to work other than to suppress the symptoms.
I find it really frustrating that billions of my taxpayer dollars are spent on funding Magic Bullets while services that are trying to deal with Root Causes are woefully underfunded, or not funded at all.
You are not a failure and you are not defective if you have to take medication
Feeling unhappy and dissatisfied with life is the human norm. Grieving and crying following tragedy, loss and failure is being Human. That's me and probably you. Our desire to have and to do better is what drives us and excites us. Frustration with clutter is the reason for the invention of the paper clip. Dissatisfaction it is what drove explorers to sail over the edge of the world fro the first time. Not being happy with our lot in life is what motivates us to seek Greener Pastures. It is what makes us different from cows happy to live their lives in a paddock happily munching away on the same kind of grass year in, year out.
Sorrow and feeling deeply unhappy are normal. What is not normal is when such feelings drag on and are accompanied by inaction and incapacity, all the while in the absence of a predominance of feelings of joy and achievement.
If you are on medication for depression because events at some time completely overwhelmed you, you are not a failure. It happens to all of us some time in our lives. If you later find you can not get off the medication although the original trigger of the episode of not coping has long gone, such as the divorce being finalised ten years ago, you are not a defective person. The problem is the drug and the poor treatment you have received - not you. Several of the contributors to the Perfect Storm may remain unresolved, plus you may now be chemically dependent on the drug.
None of this is your fault!
It is time to go back to basics: identify all of the contributors then systematically deal with each one by way of either elimination or minimisation. And get the right professional help even if you have to pay for it and be prepared to take a long time getting to 100% excellent health. As they say, "enjoy the moment of the journey, no matter how long it may be and do not focus too much on the destination".
Do you just stop taking depression drugs?
Just stopping this kind of medication is not recommended and, for most, the outcome is a failure. There is a solution and the health professional who I have been following carefully on this topic of depression medication, dependency and cessation is Dr Kelly Brogan. Of anyone in the world, it is Dr Brogan who seems to have consistently nailed the process of safe withdrawal. (Kelly Brogan, MD, is a practicing psychiatrist in Miami, FL, USA)
Here is what has been written about Dr Brogan's programme
"If you’re feeling tired all the time and struggling with negative thoughts, your doctor may tell you that you’re depressed and offer help in the form of an antidepressant.
But, the idea that antidepressants are the answer to depression is a dangerous fallacy. Antidepressants are notoriously habit-forming. And if you reach a point of minimal return or significant side effects, you may want to part ways with your medication, only to encounter weeks of withdrawal symptoms.
Published in peer-reviewed journal Advances in Mind-Body Medicine, a recent publication by Dr. Brogan and her coauthors is the first case series of its kind to document the methodology employed in the successful discontinuation of a range of psychotropic medications.
The following case study provides an in-depth analysis of patients who experienced psychiatric medication withdrawal and were treated with an effective lifestyle medicine protocol. These holistic methods present a sustainable alternative to long-term treatment of mood symptoms and chronic illnesses."
How to get off depression drugs
Read all about it here:
I do not have any associations with Dr Brogan. I just like and respect her work, including her bravery.