Making the decision to go on antidepressants can be life-changing. Antidepressant medications can greatly improve the quality of life for people living with depression, and even some other medical conditions. That said, navigating the world of antidepressants can be daunting—especially when you are struggling with your mental health. The best way to get the most out of your appointment with your doctor or medical provider is to be prepared, including knowing what to ask.
Getting started before your appointment
Before you even leave the house, there are some things you can do to prepare:
- Bring a pen and paper. Don’t rely solely on your memory to keep track of all the info your care provider shares with you. Jot down notes on paper or in your phone, or ask if your doctor or provider is comfortable with you recording the session to review later.
- Write down your questions ahead of time. It’s easy to get flustered when consulting with your doctor or provider and miss something. Having a list of questions and concerns to refer to will help you make sure you covered everything.
- Write down your symptoms ahead of time. Your doctor or provider is likely to ask you what your symptoms are, how long they have been present, etc. If you have given it thought ahead of time and jotted it down, you will feel less pressure to think on the spot and are less likely to forget something.
- Bring a list of medications you are taking, both prescription and over-the-counter. Include the dosage. Before your providers prescribe a new medication, they will need to know what else you are taking. You may also include any antidepressants you have tried in the past and what your experience was with them.
- Make note of any other medical conditions you have. This information will be helpful to your doctor or provider when deciding which medication(s) to prescribe.
11 questions to ask a doctor about antidepressants
First and foremost, any question you ask is valid. But if you’re not sure where to start, here are some basic questions to ask your doctor or provider.
1. What is my diagnosis?
Before starting any course of treatment, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis. “Although they are called antidepressants, these drugs fall into a number of classifications and treat a number of mental health conditions,” says Vinay Saranga, MD, psychiatrist, and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry in North Carolina.
In addition to the condition, the severity needs to be determined. “Part of the visit with your doctor would specify the severity,” says New York City psychiatrist Omotola T’Sarumi. Mild, moderate, and severe depression may elicit different treatment plans.
2. Should I take antidepressants?
This is something that can only be determined by you and your healthcare provider. Getting treatment for depression can be overwhelming; but it can also make a big difference to your quality of life. Being as informed as possible, making preparations ahead of time, and keeping good communication between you and your doctor can take away some of the worry and uncertainty about starting treatment with antidepressants.
3. Which antidepressant should I take?
Some commonly prescribed antidepressants include:
- Zoloft (sertraline hydrochloride)
- Celexa (citalopram hydrobromide)
- Prozac (fluoxetine hydrochloride)
- Desyrel (trazodone hydrochloride)
- Lexapro (escitalopram oxalate)
- Cymbalta (duloxetine hydrochloride)
Antidepressants in addition to this list may also be prescribed. Your doctor or provider will work with you to determine which medication is likely to be the best fit for you.
4. How do I take this medication?
“Some medications could be once a day or twice a day. Some [are required] to be taken with food and some do not need to have food on board. Some medications are best in the morning and help with alertness and others [are best] at bedtime,” Dr. T’Sarumi says.
Finding out how best to take your medication will help ensure you get the maximum benefits with the minimal amount of side effects. Knowing the best practices ahead of time will also help determine if this medication works well with your lifestyle.
5. What are the side effects?
“Side effects vary from drug to drug but often include nausea, diarrhea, weight gain, dizziness, loss of sexual function and changes in mood or increased suicidality,” says Dr. T’Sarumi. “You should discuss all possible side effects with your doctor.”
The discussion of side effects should include more information than just what they are. “What people usually do not ask (and should) is the context of what happens,” says Mark Rego, MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine. “[For] example, if there is a side effect, how often does it happen? And—very importantly—does it bother or impair people? And will it go away?”
6. How soon will I feel better?
Antidepressants can take time to begin working, and even longer to reach full effect. Dr. Tola notes that antidepressants can take up to eight to 10 weeks to become effective. Ask your doctor or provider how soon you can expect to feel some positive effects, and how long you should give it before determining the medication is not working. Your doctor or provider may book a follow-up appointment after a period of time to check in with your progress. If your physician doesn’t suggest it, ask about scheduling an appointment. Often doses need to be adjusted, and sometimes a new medication may need to be prescribed.
7. How long will I need to be on this medication?
The answer to this will depend on your specific condition. For some people, antidepressants are prescribed for months, and for others they are prescribed for years or even for a lifetime. Your doctor or provider will be able to give you a personalized big picture view.
8. What do I need to avoid while on this medication?
“Some [antidepressants] should not be taken with certain types of food such as grapes, or [with] other medications,” says Dr. T’Sarumi. “Your doctor needs to know what other medications you take, either prescribed or herbal medicines.” Certain antidepressants if taken with certain medications, can complicate into serotonin syndrome, a life-threatening drug-drug interaction. It presents with symptoms of tremors, high body temperature, sweating, and diarrhea. Hence, sharing and updating the current list of medications with your doctor is very important.
In addition to medication interactions, some antidepressants should not be taken with alcohol.
Each medication has its own “don’t” list, so this is an important question to ask instead of making assumptions based on your experiences with past medications or your general knowledge of antidepressants.
9. Can I stop taking this medication when I feel better?
The answer to this is almost always no—but ask the question anyway. Your doctor or provider can give you information on how to safely stop taking your antidepressant. The same precautions need to be taken when switching from one medication to another. Some antidepressants need to be tapered off for months to avoid rebound, the worsening of the symptoms from abruptly stopping the medications. Make a plan with your doctor or provider before stopping your medication or changing your dose.
10. What happens if I miss a dose?
“It’s important to avoid missing doses as you run [the risk] of causing what is called discontinuation syndrome, which can worsen the side effects,” says Dr. T’Sarumi.
Ask your doctor or provider what to do if you have missed your scheduled dose—do not double up on the next dose, stop taking the medication, or make any other decisions about the missed dose without checking with your doctor or provider. Missing doses happens to the best of us. Asking this question ahead of time will ensure you know what to do if/when it happens and minimize the interruption to your treatment.
11. What should I be doing in addition to taking medication?
While very important, medication is not the only way to help lessen the symptoms of depression. Your doctor or provider may suggest therapy, lifestyle changes, or other ways to help alongside your antidepressants.