Medications are often recommended as a treatment for depression. These medicines are known collectively as antidepressants.
A couple of dozen antidepressants are currently available for depression. These medicines are often separated into different classes based on how they work. They include:
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, or SNRIs, and
- Other miscellaneous antidepressants.
Most antidepressants are believed to work by slowing down the removal of certain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, from the spaces where communication between brain cells occurs. Neurotransmitters help brain cells relay messages to each other, and the right amount of neurotransmitters is needed for normal brain function. After neurotransmitters relay their message, they return to their "home" brain cell through a process called "reuptake."
In people with depression, there may not be enough of certain types of neurotransmitters. This includes serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. When there is an imbalance of neurotransmitters, the brain cells that use these neurotransmitters cannot communicate as well with each other. Antidepressants work by making one or more of these neurotransmitters more readily available.
For example, SSRIs increase the availability of serotonin by blocking its reuptake. This means that more serotonin is left in between the nerve cells to relay messages, thereby fixing the imbalance. SNRIs work similar to SSRIs, but in addition to blocking the reuptake of serotonin, they block the reuptake of norepinephrine, making more of both available.
By fixing the imbalance of neurotransmitters, depression symptoms often improve.
You should keep five things in mind if you are prescribed antidepressants. The first is that your healthcare provider may have you try more than one antidepressant in order to find the most effective one for your situation. Taking a combination of medicines is also common.
The second is that your dosage may need to be increased in order for it to be effective.
Third, although some improvements may be seen in the first few weeks, antidepressant medications must be taken regularly for three to four weeks or, in some cases, for as long as eight weeks before the full effect is felt.
Fourth, antidepressants can interact with a number of different medicines. So make sure you tell your healthcare provider about any other medications you are taking, including over-the-counter medicines and supplements.
Finally, even if you feel better, you should not stop taking your medication without first talking with your healthcare provider.