Background Population-based studies investigating indications for antidepressant prescribing mostly rely on diagnoses from general practitioners. However, diagnostic codes might be incomplete and drugs may be prescribed 'off-label' for indications not investigated in clinical trials. Objective We aimed to study indications for antidepressant use based on self-report. Also, we studied the presence of depressive symptoms associated with the self-reported indications. Setting Our study population of antidepressant users was selected based on interview data between 1997 and 2013 from the prospective population-based Rotterdam Study cohort (age > 45 years). Method Antidepressant use, self-reported indication for use, and presence of depressive symptoms (Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale) were based on interview. Self-reported indications were categorized by the researchers into officially approved, clinically-accepted and commonly mentioned off-label indications. Main outcome measures A score of 16 and higher on the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale was considered as indicator for clinically-relevant depressive symptoms. Results The majority of 914 antidepressant users reported 'depression' (52.4 %) as indication for treatment. Furthermore, anxiety, stress and sleep disorders were reported in selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor and other antidepressant users (ranging from 5.9 to 13.3 %). The indication 'pain' was commonly mentioned by tricyclic antidepressant users (19.0 %). Indications were statistically significantly associated with higher depressive symptom scores when compared to non-users (n = 10,979). Conclusions Depression was the main indication for antidepressant treatment. However, our findings suggest that antidepressants are also used for off-label indications, subthreshold disorders and complex situations, which were all associated with clinically-relevant depressive symptoms in the middle-aged and elderly population.