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I've been taking sertraline for about 3 years, and this year I, with the supervision of my psychiatrist, decided to stop taking it by reducing the dosage slowly. Some of the common symptoms of sertraline withdrawal are (taken from here):

  • anger
  • irritability
  • confusion
  • dizziness
  • sleepiness
  • depression

I don't know how I specifically will be affected, or if my productivity will be affected. Should I tell my boss or HR about it?

  • 3
    Ask your doctor if you can expect adverse symptoms while at work. If the answer is "Yes", have your doctor write a letter. Show it to your boss and file a copy in HR. – WorkerDrone Jan 17 '17 at 16:57
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    Do you have any idea about the timeframe here? Will this be a week where your mood is highly affected? A month? A year where you might be more cranky than usual as you reduce dosage? The common advice given in this situation is to say something like "I'll be dealing with a health situation that may impact X and will last for Y but I should be able to manage it by A, B, C" but whether you can say that depends on what those variables might mean. – Lilienthal Jan 17 '17 at 17:19
38

I had TERRIBLE withdrawal from sertraline. SO....

  1. Don't just quit without the supervision of your doctor
  2. TELL NOBODY ON THE JOB. It's not their business
  3. Be prepared to take a sick day or two if you're not feeling right.
  4. Even with your Psychiatrist dropping you down slowly, you can still get withdrawal, be very aware of the side effects and if you feel them coming on, address them. The bathroom is always a good choice, or go home if they get too bad
  5. Discuss all of this with your psychiatrist
  6. If HR or your boss takes notice of any of this, get a note from your psychiatrist and bring that to HR. Do not say anything other than the fact that you are under a doctor's care, and "here's the note"
  • Ah, the timing of this question... on a related note, an intern wrote something over Slack to me yesterday apologizing for a goof they made, writing, "sorry im going off meds and everything is hard for me. anti-depressants and engineering dont mix hahaha". I didn't really know what to say as he's an adult in his twenties and thought that he should know that this isn't any of my business. I replied, "Understandable. If you're not feeling well or not clearheaded, maybe you should speak with your PM and take the day off." Should I talk to his PM personally? (I oversee/direct a bit of his work). – 8protons Jan 17 '17 at 21:30
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    @8protons take it as a joke, and say nothing. If confronted down the line, say you thought it was a joke and didn't think anything of it. Better yet, you never heard him say it at all, or you don't remember. WAAAAY too much potential for legal liability otherwise. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jan 17 '17 at 22:23
  • I for sure agree with #2. At most you might want to talk to HR if it's a larger firm just to keep your ducks in order regarding avoiding being terminated for a mental illness. Besides that, though, nope, it's nobody's business what you do or do not have. – NotVonKaiser Jan 18 '17 at 0:20
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    @RichardU: What potentially bad outcomes may occur if he does tell his boss? And regarding your comment, who would be legally liable for what exactly? Everything you've said seems like a mystery to me right now. – Mehrdad Jan 18 '17 at 0:38
  • @Mehrdad If you have a better answer, please post one. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jan 18 '17 at 13:22
22

If the side effects are going to be intense (they sound pretty serious), then maybe you should consider going on medical leave while you sort yourself out (discuss this with your psychiatrist).

If however, you're going to keep going in to the office, then you may indeed wish to inform your boss and/or HR that you're transitioning off some medication (with the blessing of your medical professional), and may experience some side effects which they should know about.

This situation is tricky because you would be voluntarily disclosing medical information. However, if you suddenly snap and yell at someone in the office it might not hurt for your boss to be aware that you don't "mean it", and might need some time alone to compose yourself, or to head home for the remainder of the day.

Either way, I would strongly suggest taking a few days off and monitoring your reaction to the withdrawal.

  • I agree with taking some time off. If I put myself in the boss's shoes and you came to me about the situation before hand I would be sympathetic, but I'd also be annoyed that you're forcing everyone to deal with a potentially extreme behaviors instead of taking time off. – The Muffin Man Jan 17 '17 at 16:35
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    Someone below suggested this, but it is worth repeating -- you don't need to state the actual medication or the reasons. You could just say you're changing medicine and there might be some side effects on your mood for a few weeks. They don't need to know if its medication for blood pressure, an SSRI, asthma, or foot fungus. – rrauenza Jan 17 '17 at 19:49
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    I am extremely dubious about being up-front about this information, but I am quite sure that the answer would improve if you caution against specifying which medication is changing. If you’re going to say anything, it should be minimal and generic—“per doctor’s recommendation, I am making changes to my medication, and during a transition period there may be effects on my mood” seems to be about the most I could see recommending. Definitely not mentioning the drug by name. Without warning against giving away too much information, this answer seems potentially harmful. – KRyan Jan 17 '17 at 19:55
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    Where I live, mental health issues carry enough stigma to get you fired from the job. Because of that, no one at work knows about my medical condition. In this situation, I'd get the family doctor to write a letter for HR, and take a medical leave until the worst of the withdrawal symptoms is over. – user27051 Jan 17 '17 at 20:36
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    @Mehrdad Knowing the drug means knowing what the drug is for means knowing what malady you have that the drug is treating. None of that is information that is relevant to your employer, and may be held as a black mark against you, consciously or unconsciously. – KRyan Jan 18 '17 at 0:54
9

Never tell anyone except your closest family about changes in your medication.

If you tell our boss or co-workers that you are going off sertraline, they are going to look up the drug to find out what to expect. Having read all about its indications and effects, they will naturally assume you will now exhibit anger, irritability, confusion, dizziness, sleepiness, or depression. Confirmation bias will set in and at least some of them will believe you are presenting these symptoms, even as you actually become more forgiving, calm, focused, alert, awake, and motivated.

(Of course, on the positive side, they will also see you as less thirsty, more trim and fit, better rested, and more potent -- assuming they have read up on the side effects.)

  • 1
    You've explained my position pretty well too. I would add that theoretically you can tell HR without any repercussions because they're not supposed to talk to anyone unless it actually affects the job (which actually it may at some point). – Chris E Jan 17 '17 at 16:47
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    Wouldn't it be possible to tell them without mentioning the actual medication? They should undoubtedly understand if you don't want to reveal the details, but still want to let them know what's going on. – Brandin Jan 17 '17 at 16:52
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    @ChristopherEstep yes, but always keep in mind that HR's job is to protect the company, not you. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jan 17 '17 at 18:00
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    @A.I.Breveleri No, I mean something more along the lines of "Due to medical reasons, I'm changing my medication." Just the relevant facts. – Brandin Jan 17 '17 at 18:21
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    @A.I.Breveleri: Depending upon the nature of the relationship with the boss, it might be reasonable to put things in more general terms: one is making a change to some medication, and doesn't expect any problems but want to give a heads-up in case of any weird side-effects that would suggest that the change isn't going to work out. Put in those terms, I don't think such a heads-up would bias a boss toward expecting problems, but may (again depending upon the relationship) make the boss more comfortable letting the employee know of signs that perhaps the change may not work out. – supercat Jan 17 '17 at 18:35
3

A lot will depend upon your relationship with the boss and the size of the company and its HR department. It may be helpful to tell those with whom you have a lot of interaction (including your boss) that you are going to be changing some medications and that you don't expect any problems, but there's a possibility of adverse reactions that might require using a different treatment.

Don't go into specifics about what is being changed; there's no particular reason your boss or coworkers should need to know or care. What is important is that they understand that if they notice adverse changes in your mood or other such problems and they let you know, you will be able to pass that information along to your doctor so he can try something else.

If stopping the medication does adversely affect your work performance, you will need to talk to your doctor to figure out how to address the problem, but that would be a medical issue more than a workplace one.

1

You don't say where you are based, but if it's somewhere with disability discrimination legislation then by not disclosing your mental health issues you have no protection under the law.

I would recommend always letting HR know about health issues, and usually warn my boss and colleagues about medication changes if it might affect my behaviour at work.

1

Let's assume next week you act angry, irritable, or confused. All not things that are particularly liked in the workplace. Ask your doctor whether you would know if that happens (and if it is safe to restore the original dose if that happens).

If your doctor tells you that you might behave in a way that is not appropriate for the workplace, without realising it, then it might be safer if someone who works with you and who you can trust knows what's going on and saves you from getting into trouble. HR or your boss if he doesn't work with you directly might not be the right person.

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