Depression can be treated effectively with antidepressant medications and psychological therapies. Research suggests that antidepressant medications and psychotherapy are equally effective for treating mild to moderate cases of depression. For more severe cases, medications are clearly superior. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is the most effective treatment for depression with psychotic symptoms or when depression is life-threatening.

Antidepressant Medications

There are different classes of antidepressant medications and each type has different side effects. Fortunately, all classes of antidepressants are effective. The patient and doctor just have to find the one that works best for the individual. In fact, 60 to 70% of depressed patients who are given an antidepressant recover from their depression in three to six weeks, provided that the dose is sufficient and that the patients take their medication each day as prescribed.

The goal of treatment is complete relief of depressive symptoms, not just partial relief. Patients should be open with their doctors about how they feel after they begin taking an antidepressant. If they feel better after three to six weeks, but their symptoms are still present, the doctor will likely increase the dose of the antidepressant that they are taking. If they cannot tolerate a higher dose, the doctor will likely switch to another medication. If one’s symptoms are no better or worse after three or four weeks, the doctor should suggest that the patient try a different antidepressant.

SSRIs (e.g. Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, Luvox)

Psychiatrists and primary care physicians prescribe these drugs more than any other class of antidepressants. The side effects are tolerable and the drugs are convenient to use.

Common side effects: Side effects of this class of medication include sleep changes (insomnia or sedation), stomach upset, mild headache, anxiety or restlessness, and changes in sexual performance (decreased libido or decreased physical sensations). Restlessness and changes in sexual performance can be counteracted with small doses of an additional medication and the other side effects usually last for only a few days.

Usage: These drugs only need to be taken once a day, which makes them convenient. (Usually, Luvox is taken twice a day.) They do not require any special monitoring other than a doctor’s evaluation to determine whether they are effective in relieving one’s depressive symptoms. They are also safe in overdose.