According to researcher Paul Andrews at McMaster University in Canada, people who use antidepressants are much more likely to suffer relapses of major depression than those who use no medication at all
Andrews’ evaluation (meta-analysis) of previous studies shows that people who have not been taking any medication for their depression are at a 25 percent risk of relapse, compared to 42 percent or higher for those who have taken and gone off an antidepressant.
Andrews claims that antidepressants interfere with the brain’s natural methods for self-regulation of serotonin and other neurotransmitters. Once you stop taking the medication, he says, the brain can overcorrect and enter a new period of depression.
The various types of antidepressants all disrupt the brain’s natural regulatory mechanics. Andrews says this is like putting a weight on a spring. The brain, like a spring, pushes back against the weight. When you stop taking the antidepressant, it is like removing the weight from the spring. That leaves you at an increased risk of more depression: Your brain, like the compressed spring, rapidly expands before retracting to a normal resting state.
“We found that the more these drugs affect serotonin and other neurotransmitters in your brain — and that’s what they’re supposed to do — the greater your risk of relapse once you stop taking them,” Andrews says. “All these drugs do is reduce symptoms, probably to some degree, in the short term. The trick is what happens in the long term. Our results suggest that when you try to go off the drugs, depression will bounce back. This can leave people stuck in a cycle where they need to keep taking antidepressants to prevent a return of symptoms.”
Andrews believes depression may actually be a natural and helpful, even if painful, condition in which the brain labors to deal with stress.
“There’s a lot of debate about whether or not depression is truly a disorder, as most clinicians and the majority of the psychiatric establishment believe, or whether it’s an evolved adaptation that does something useful,” he says.