Can Antidepressants Cause Anxiety?

Anxious woman chewing on her fingernail

Joerg Steffens / OJO Images / Getty Images

While antidepressants can be used to treat anxiety, it is also a possible side effect of these medications. This can be confusing, especially if you're being successfully treated for depression but begin feeling anxious at the same time. There are a number of possible reasons for this, though it is best to discuss your concerns with your doctor.

Link Between Antidepressants and Anxiety

Antidepressants are often used to treat anxiety disorders, especially generalized anxiety and panic disorders, as well as depression. For some people, depression and an anxiety disorder can co-exist.

For instance, one study found that around 67% of people with a depressive disorder also have an anxiety disorder. When two conditions are present at the same time, this is known as comorbidity.

Researchers continue to look into how antidepressants can help both types of conditions, including the link between the disorders and the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Antidepressants and Activation Syndrome

Occasionally, antidepressants may also create feelings of anxiety and jitteriness as a side effect. This effect, sometimes known as activation syndrome, usually occurs in the early days of treatment. In one study, 31% of people who had not taken antidepressants before experienced activation syndrome.

A systematic review of multiple studies took this a step further. In it, researchers compared rates of jitteriness/anxiety syndrome among different types of antidepressants. The results varied greatly, with anywhere from 4% to 65% of people newly prescribed antidepressants experiencing this side effect.

Generally, the side effect is mild and temporary, dissipating as a person adjusts to the new medication. 

Activation syndrome can also potentially include such symptoms as agitation, insomnia, irritability, aggressiveness, impulsiveness, and restlessness.

Antidepressants and Suicidal Thoughts

In addition, there is a complex relationship between anidepressant's potential to contribute to symptoms of activation syndrome, hypomania or mania, and their risk of increasing suicidal thoughts and behaviors in some individuals.

Children, teens, and young adults are most prone to this. In 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated the black box warning required on all antidepressants. The new information includes the added risk for developing suicidal thoughts and behaviors during the early stages of treatment.

The FDA further recommends that any child, teen, or young adult who is beginning treatment with an antidepressant be carefully observed for any signs of unusual behavioral changes, worsening depression or suicidality. Help should be sought immediately if any of these do occur.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

What You Can Do

If you do feel like an antidepressant is increasing your anxiety, speak with your doctor about it. There are a number of different approaches they can take to counteract this side effect. For instance, they may lower your dose, switch you to a different medication, or prescribe another medication to counteract it.

It is not advised to stop taking your antidepressant without first consulting your doctor. Stopping your medication too quickly can create its own set problems, known as discontinuation syndrome. You also run the risk that your depression may return or become worse.

A Word From Verywell

When you begin taking a new antidepressant, it may take some time for your body to adjust. Everyone is different, which is why it's important to communicate with your doctor about any side effects that you experience, including increased anxiety. Most importantly, if you experience suicidal thoughts, seek medical help right away.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lamers F, Van Oppen P, Comijs HC, et al. Comorbidity Patterns of anxiety and depressive disorders in a large cohort study: The Netherlands study of depression and anxiety (NESDA)J Clin Psychiat. 2011;72(3):341-348. doi:10.4088/JCP.10m06176blu

  2. Harada T, Sakamoto K, Ishigooka J. Incidence and predictors of activation syndrome induced by antidepressantsDepress Anxiety. 2008;25(12):1014-1019. doi:10.1002/da.20438

  3. Sinclair LI, Christmas DM, Hood SD, et al. Antidepressant-induced jitteriness/anxiety syndrome: Systematic reviewBr J Psychiatry. 2009;194(6):483-490. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.107.048371

  4. Brent DA. Antidepressants and suicidality. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2016;39(3):503-512. doi:10.1016/j.psc.2016.04.002

Additional Reading

By Nancy Schimelpfening
Nancy Schimelpfening, MS is the administrator for the non-profit depression support group Depression Sanctuary. Nancy has a lifetime of experience with depression, experiencing firsthand how devastating this illness can be.