Many people with depression choose either therapy or antidepressants to treat their symptoms. However, there are benefits from combining treatments.

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Depression can be complex. A treatment that works for one person might not work for someone else. What matters is finding the approach best suited to you.

Some people find success in regular therapy sessions, while others find that antidepressants are more effective.

In your search for the best way to treat your symptoms, you may find yourself asking — is it better to just try both?

Each treatment has its pros and cons. Learning about how each one can benefit you means you can make a more informed decision about which treatment or combination of treatments may be best for you.

A significant benefit of antidepressant medication is that you can typically manage it on your own each day. The idea of sticking with regular therapy or self-care activities like exercise and nutritious eating can feel overwhelming for some people. Antidepressants can remove a lot of the stress and costs of scheduling and attending therapy.

Another benefit involves the effects of antidepressants on the chemicals in your brain, called neurotransmitters. Serotonin-specific medications may help regulate the levels of these chemicals.

Sometimes antidepressants can cause side effects, though. These can include:

  • nausea
  • constipation
  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • weight gain
  • heart problems
  • diarrhea
  • anxiety

However, the overall benefits from these medications will likely make the side effects worth tolerating. If the side effects are too much, your doctor can help you make adjustments to your treatment plan, like a different dosage or an alternative medication.

It’s important to have your doctor’s guidance when adjusting your medication because stopping or changing the dosage on your own can make your symptoms worse.

One of the downsides of antidepressants is that they can take time to start working, and the effects aren‘t instantaneous.

Some types, like serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may take about 2 to 8 weeks before having a noticeable effect. Signs that your medication is starting to work include improved sleep, energy, and appetite.

It can take a while to find the right antidepressant for you. Doctors can’t always predict how a medication will affect you, and it may take trying different antidepressants or dosages before you find the treatment that really helps.

It is also worth keeping in mind that, in some cases, antidepressants can cause people to have an increase in suicidal thoughts or actions in the first few weeks of treatment.

This is due to a side effect that can cause feelings of detachment and restlessness, similar to anxiety, which can worsen the feelings of hopelessness that often accompany suicidal thoughts. Only about 4% of those who use antidepressant medication experience this reaction, and it’s more common in young people, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

Therapy is a valuable opportunity for you to learn more about yourself and how your brain processes thoughts and emotions. It can also teach you skills to manage future challenges you may encounter.

Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is a tool to help you understand the psychosocial contexts of stress. In therapy, you can learn about how to better navigate these stressors.

By exploring how and why you react the way you do, you can learn to better manage the reactions that help or hinder your progress.

Your therapist can help you in several areas, such as:

  • overcoming past pain
  • developing coping strategies
  • setting goals
  • exploring the causes of your moods and behaviors
  • examining perspectives
  • learning communication skills
  • boosting self-esteem
  • improving outlook

Plus, therapy doesn’t have side effects the way that antidepressant medication does, and it’s becoming more accessible as many therapists are starting to use online therapy platforms.

In the United States, federal law protects your right to access all types of mental health treatments, including psychotherapy. The Affordable Care Act has also expanded that access, even to people who previously couldn’t afford insurance. As a result, now can be a great time to try psychotherapy, thanks to more insurance plans covering at least a few sessions.

Starting therapy can be very intimidating at first because you might not want to share your thoughts with another person or worry that they may judge you for the feelings you express. Therapy works best in an environment of trust, which does take time to genuinely develop.

It can take a while to build a strong rapport with your therapist, and the first one you see may not be the best fit for you or your needs.

You may not even know if your therapist is a good fit until you’ve had three or four sessions, but if you are open to the process and working with your therapist, long-term healing is possible. You may also want to consider finding a different therapist if the first one you try is not a good fit.

If you’re still not sure where to start, comparing talk therapy and medication can offer some insights to help guide your decision.

Is therapy better than antidepressants?

Whether therapy is more effective than antidepressants may depend on the types of symptoms you’re experiencing and their severity.

According to the American Psychological Association, psychotherapy can be an effective treatment option for people who don’t respond to antidepressants.

If you’re experiencing mild to moderate depression, therapy may be all you need to manage your symptoms. However, for people with more serious depression, 2014 research points to a combination of medication and therapy as the most effective approach.

Depending on the type and severity of your depression, you may be able to manage your symptoms with therapy and improvements to your sleep schedule, nutrition, and exercise.

Should you start with therapy before taking antidepressants?

Talk therapy is often very effective, and it is something you can try out for a few weeks and quit if it isn‘t right for you. This is not the case with an antidepressant because there are serious side effects that can occur if you suddenly stop taking it.

Lifestyle changes like improved diet, regular exercise, and better sleep habits can also help. However, if the symptoms of your depression interfere with your ability to make lifestyle changes or find a therapist, your doctor may suggest starting your treatment with antidepressant medication.

Will antidepressants work without therapy?

While you will likely gain some short-term relief from the symptoms of depression through antidepressants, 2017 research has shown that medications alone may not work as well in the long term compared with a combination treatment.

Older 2009 research has also shown cognitive therapy to be as effective as antidepressant medication.

Therapy can teach you long-term management techniques that you can always use, even after you’ve stopped attending sessions. Medication, on the other hand, is generally only effective while you’re taking it.

While antidepressants can treat your symptoms without therapy, taking them without therapy may not be the best option for your mental health in the long run.

Is combining therapy and antidepressants the best?

Combined treatments of psychotherapy and medication are the preferred treatment for depression, according to a 2014 literature review. The most effective type of treatment may be to use both options. You can decide to take them at the same time or at different points along the treatment course.

Whether you try antidepressants or therapy or both, the important thing to remember is that depression is treatable.

Medication gives you the motivation to take care of yourself, and therapy gives you the skills and strategies to do so even after your treatment has finished. Both types of treatment have their own advantages, and they work even better when combined.

Focusing on your mental health can feel a little intimidating when you’re first starting out, and you may even feel discouraged if you don’t see results quickly. But it’s important to keep in mind, improving your mental health is a slow, gradual process. Over time, you can find the treatment that is best for you — no matter what that combination turns out to be.