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Your Loved One is on Psychiatric Medication. Now What?

February 2, 2009

Your partner has been diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety and the doctor has prescribed medication. What does this mean?

First, it means that your partner’s symptoms are interfering with his or her quality of life and/or functioning level. You probably already knew that. Second, it means that now, more than ever, your patience and understanding are vital.

The medications most commonly prescribed for depression and anxiety are the “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors” or SSRIs. These include Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa and Lexapro. You AND your partner should understand a few things: The side effects come first. While usually mild, side effects can include stomach issues, sleeping problems and headache. They usually subside. The benefits of the medication can take 4-6 weeks of daily doses, and often longer, to appear. Sometimes people are willing to put up with side effects if there are clear benefits. If side effects are really bothering your partner or if you have specific concerns, make sure to talk this over with the prescribing doctor.

Even at a full dose, these medications don’t change personality traits, just symptoms of depression and anxiety.

A possible ongoing side effect can be an effect on sexual function: decreased libido (sex drive) and delayed orgasm. Talk about this together. Even though people often feel embarrassed or are reluctant to talk about such personal issues, there are many ways the doctor can deal with these side effects effectively – please ask! And, when your partner goes off of the medications, these side effects should quickly subside.

Your partner will likely need to stay on medication for a while. A usual recommendation is that when the symptoms have improved, a person should remain on the medication for about a year. Discuss concerns about this with the prescribing doctor, and don’t make changes on your own. If your partner is feeling better, it’s likely in part because of the medication, and stopping it may allow symptoms to come back.

Perhaps the most important thing to know is that these medications work. They may not be effective immediately, and sometimes it takes trying more than one medication, or trying medication combinations to find the right one. Studies have also shown that treatment with medicine is more effective when combined with participation in individual therapy. Discuss therapy options with your partner and the doctor.

Bottom line: Be informed, be supportive, and be patient!

Dr. Sarah DeMichele, is Council for Relationships’ Director of Medical Services and Senior Staff Psychiatrist in our University City and Center City offices. She can be reached at 215-382-6680 ext. 3111.