Can antidepressants stop working if you take them for a long time?


How effective are antidepressants if you’ve been taking them for a long time?

That’s the question many people are asking after a new investigation by BBC Panorama.

Reporters has revealed that more than a quarter of patients taking antidepressants in England (around two million people) have been on them for five years.

However, the BBC points out there is “limited evidence” to suggest the drugs still offer a benefit after that time period.


Antidepressants are prescribed to people suffering from depression, anxiety, OCD among other conditions, and there are one million more people taking them now in England than there were five years ago.

Research from the University of Oxford in 2018 said antidepressants help some people in the short term, but others may see no benefit.

Similarly, the John Hopkins School of Medicine website states that symptoms return in up to 33 percent of people who use antidepressants, known as breakthrough depression.

Psychiatrist and co-director of the Jack and Mary McGlasson Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins, Paul Nestadt explained: “Usually an antidepressant that worked for a patient will continue to work.

“But sometimes, there might be a new episode of depression that doesn’t respond so well to that medication, or the medication might just stop working altogether.”

This could be due to drug or alcohol use, pregnancy, new sources of stress, or other medications.

And sometimes, it might just stop working for no apparent reason, according to Nestadt.


He said: “I think it’s less about building tolerance and more likely the stressors and stressors in the brain that are constantly changing.”

The early signs of a breakthrough into depression listed by John Hopkins include low mood, changes in sleep or appetite, decreased socializing, loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities.

Sometimes, these problems can be resolved by switching to a different antidepressant or by adjusting the dose.

If the symptoms recur for more than a few days, try to consult your doctor, but do not stop the treatment, as you may experience withdrawal problems.

As BBC Panorama has pointed out, this is when your body struggles to get back to coping without a drug. It can include low mood and feelings of anxiety, but it varies from person to person, what medication they were taking, and for how long.

BBC Panorama looked at the impact of Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors (SSRISs) that have been used since the late 1980s, whose researchers are still not so clear on how it works.

Some research suggests it may increase the risk of other health problems such as heart problems.


The Royal College of Psychiatrists updated information on withdrawals in 2019 to show that stopping antidepressants can be severe and last for some people (perhaps up to several months). He had previously suggested it would only take a week to stop the drug.

If you are considering stopping your antidepressants, this should be discussed with your doctors. There is more information here on the NHS website.

BBC Panorama’s The Antidepressant Story is available on BBC One at 8pm Monday 19 June (8.30pm in Wales and Northern Ireland) and later on the BBC iPlayer.

Help and Support:

  • Mindopen Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm 0300 123 3393.
  • Samaritans offers a 24-hour listening service, on 116 123 (UK & ROI – This number is FREE and will not appear on your phone bill).
  • CALM (the campaign against living wretchedly) offers a helpline open from 5pm to midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58and a webchat service.
  • The mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email
  • Rethinking mental illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm). More information can be found at

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