Depression Medications: Antidepressants
Antidepressants are medicines used to help people who have depression. With the help of these depression medications, most people can achieve significant recovery from depression.
Antidepressant drugs are not happy pills, and they are not a panacea. They are prescription-only drugs that come with risks as well as benefits, and should only ever be taken under a doctor’s supervision. They are, however, one depression treatment option. Taking medications for depression is not a sign of personal weakness — and there is good evidence that they do help.
Whether antidepressant medication is the best treatment option depends on how severe the person’s depression is, their history of illness, their age (psychological treatments are usually the first choice for children and adolescents), and their personal preferences. Most people do best with a combination of medications for depression and therapy.
“For adults with severe depression,” says psychiatrist Petros Markou, M.D., “there is strong evidence that antidepressants are more effective than any other treatment. If depression is mild or moderate, psychotherapy alone may be sufficient, though even in this case, short-term antidepressant drug treatment or herbal therapy can help people get to the point where they can engage in therapy and get some exercise (which is also thought to help improve mood).”
How Antidepressants Work
Most antidepressants are believed to work by slowing the removal of certain chemicals from the brain. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters (such as serotonin and norepinephrine). Neurotransmitters are needed for normal brain function and are involved in the control of mood and in other responses and functions, such as eating, sleep, pain, and thinking.
Antidepressants help people with depression by making these natural chemicals more available to the brain. By restoring the brain’s chemical balance, antidepressants help relieve the symptoms of depression.
Specifically, antidepressant drugs help reduce the extreme sadness, hopelessness, and lack of interest in life that are typical in people with depression. These drugs also may be used to treat other conditions, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, premenstrual syndrome, chronic pain, and eating disorders.
Typically, antidepressants are taken for 4 to 6 months. In some cases, however, patients and their doctors may decide that antidepressants are needed for a longer time.