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Depression is often accompanied with a sense of hopelessness, which sometimes leads a patient to discontinue taking their antidepressant medication.

James E. Aikens, PhD, associate professor of Family Medicine, University of Michigan Health System, studied 573 depressed patients from 37 different practices. The patients were given one of the antidepressants: fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), or sertraline (Zoloft). All participants were accessed at one month, 3 months, and 9 months after their treatment had begun.

Patients overall responded rapidly to their medication:

  • 68% of the patients reported improvement at the end of their first month of treatment.
  • 88% of the patients reported improvement after 3 months of treatment.

During the period of improvement patients experienced improved positive emotions, work functioning, and social functioning. Improvements in head, back, and stomach pain plateaued during the first month, with little improvement in the following months. (Aikens feels physicians may want to consider additional treatments that directly target pain in depressed patients if these physical complaints persist after the first few weeks of treatment with antidepressants.)

Aikens found one area that lagged behind in the patient’s improvement was the sense of hopefulness. Patients continued to feel a sense of hopelessness even while their other conditions improved, which could lead them to stop taking their antidepressant medications.