Long-term antidepressant treatment has increased and there is evidence of adverse effects; however, little is known about patients' experiences and views of this form of treatment. This study used mixed methods to examine patients' views and experiences of long-term antidepressant treatment, including benefits and concerns. Data from 180 patients, who were long-term users of antidepressants (3-15 years), were extracted from an anonymous online survey of patients' experiences of antidepressants in New Zealand. Participants had completed rating scales about the effectiveness of antidepressants, levels of depression before and during antidepressant use, quality of life, and perceived adverse effects. Two open-ended questions allowed participants to comment on personal experiences. The majority (89.4%) reported that antidepressants had improved their depression although 30% reported moderate-to-severe depression on antidepressants. Common adverse effects included withdrawal effects (73.5%), sexual problems (71.8%), and weight gain (65.3%). Adverse emotional effects, such as feeling emotionally numb (64.5%) and addicted (43%), were also common. While the majority of patients were pleased with the benefits of antidepressant treatment, many were concerned about these adverse effects. Some expressed a need for more information about long-term risks and increased information and support to discontinue.
Keywords: adverse effects; antidepressants; discontinuation syndrome; patients’ beliefs; patients’ experiences; withdrawal symptoms.