“I don’t want to take these pills anymore!” Janet said, holding up a plastic prescription bottle and shaking it vigorously. “I don’t like how they make me feel!” The drug was fluoxetine (Prozac), and the scenario is one with which I have become very familiar.

Like Janet, today more than 10% of Americans take an antidepressant. Even though antidepressants can sometimes be life-saving — for example, if a person feels suicidal — these drugs are prescribed, in my opinion, to far too many people. Less than 32% of patients who take antidepressants see mental health professionals. Family physicians often prescribe antidepressants for mild depression, anxiety and premenstrual syndrome. In addition, the drugs may be prescribed inappropriately when a physical problem, such as a hormone imbalance, is causing the depressive symptoms.

Many of my patients who have taken an antidepressant say that the drug makes them feel flat. Life may be less fraught with fear or anger for these people, but it often becomes — to them — monotonous and even dull. Common side effects also may include a lack of interest in sex, an inability to focus and an increased tendency to procrastinate. Based on my patients’ experiences, in some cases, these drugs may cause personality changes that adversely influence relationships, job choices and self-esteem.

In my practice, I have helped hundreds of people transition off antidepressants and move forward in medication-free, depression-free lives. Very important: If you would like to stop taking an antidepressant, do so only with the help of a physician — withdrawal symptoms may occur.

Advice I’ve given to my patients who want to give up antidepressants…

Find a safe way to express your inner emotional state. When you reduce your antidepressant medication, your emotions will be more strongly felt. In my opinion, these emotions are best examined in therapy with a mental health professional. However, I’ve seen patients work with their emotions in lots of ways — for example, through dance, journaling, music, weekly meetings with a pastor or close personal friend.

Try tryptophan. This amino acid is used by the body to make serotonin, a calming brain chemical. Though not as strong as synthetic antidepressants, tryptophan works well for mild-to-moderate anxiety and depression. If a person is transitioning off of an antidepressant, I often initially prescribe 500 mg of L-tryptophan two times a day, 30 minutes away from food, on alternating days with the prescription medication.

Take pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5). This vitamin enhances function of the adrenal glands, which help us manage stress. Typical dose: 250 mg twice daily with food.

Consider using Gotu kola, an herb that improves circulation to the brain and calms the nervous system. If a person is going off of an antidepressant, I typically recommend 30 drops of tincture in two ounces of water, 30 minutes before or after meals, four times a day for four to six weeks.