Top 10 Self-help tips about Antidepressant Medication
Are antidepressants a good treatment option? What are the potential side effects and safety concerns? Which one is right for you? Here's all you need to know about depression medication.
What are antidepressants?
Antidepressants are a range of medications used in the treatment of depression and other mental health conditions, and are some of the most commonly prescribed medications around. They include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), atypical antidepressants, tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
Antidepressant medications are designed to change chemicals (neurotransmitters) in the brain that affect mood and emotions. When you're suffering from the pain and anguish of depression, that can sound like a simple and convenient method of relief. Of course, it's important to remember that — despite what you might have heard — depression isn't simply caused by the balance of chemicals in the brain. Rather, it's caused by a complex combination of biological, psychological, and social factors, including lifestyle, relationships, and coping skills that medication can't address.
That doesn't mean that antidepressants don't work for some people. After all, aspirin can ease a headache even though headaches aren't caused by an aspirin imbalance. When your depression is severe, antidepressant medication can be helpful, even lifesaving. But, while it can help relieve symptoms in some people, it isn't a cure for depression and is not usually a long-term solution. As time goes on, some people who respond initially to medication can slip back into depression, as can those who stop taking the medication. Antidepressants also often come with unpleasant side effects so it's important to weigh the benefits against the risks when considering depression medication.
Many people with mild to moderate depression find that therapy, exercise, and self-help strategies work just as well or even better than medication — minus the side effects. Even if you decide to take medication, it's a good idea to also pursue therapy and lifestyle changes that can help you to address the underlying issues and beat depression for good.
Types of antidepressants and their side effects
The most widely prescribed antidepressants come from a class of medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which include drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. SSRIs act on the neurotransmitter serotonin, a brain chemical which helps to regulate mood.
As the name suggests, serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) act on the brain chemical as norepinephrine as well as serotonin. They include the drugs Pristiq, Cymbalta, Fetzima, and Effexor and may also be used to treat anxiety and depression accompanied by pain.
Side effects of SSRIs and SNRIs
Since the neurotransmitter serotonin also plays a role in digestion, pain, sleep, and mental clarity, SSRIs and SNRIs can cause a wide range of side effects, including:
Decreased sex drive
Sleepiness or fatigue
Some SNRIs may also raise blood pressure or exacerbate liver problems. SSRIs and SNRIs can also cause serious withdrawal symptoms, especially if you stop taking them abruptly.
Atypical antidepressants don't fit into other classes of antidepressants, but target different neurotransmitters to change the brain chemistry and regulate mood. They include Wellbutrin, Remeron, Desyrel, Serzone, Viibryd, and Trintellix.
The side effects vary according to the specific drug. However, many of the atypical antidepressants can cause nausea, fatigue, weight gain, sleepiness, nervousness, dry mouth, and blurred vision.
Older depression drugs
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) are older classes of antidepressants. Their side effects are more severe than those of the newer antidepressants, so they are only prescribed as a last resort after other treatments and medications have failed.
The U.S. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved Esketamine (brand name Spravato) for patients with severe, treatment-resistant depression. Taken as a nasal spray in conjunction with an oral antidepressant, esketamine may deliver rapid improvement of symptoms for some patients with major depression. However, as a form of ketamine, it also carries some mind-altering side effects, including dissociation, changes in speech and behavior, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. There is also the potential for abuse and misuse of this drug and, as yet, no definitive studies on its long-term effects.