Antidepressants are medications prescribed to treat depression, as well as some other mental health disorders. Most antidepressants work by controlling the level of certain chemicals in the brain, such as norepinephrine and serotonin. These chemicals impact mood, and often having a larger amount of the chemicals available helps restore the chemical balance in the brain and helps with depression.
There are a variety of types of antidepressants, and often different kinds work best for different people. Finding the right antidepressant (or combination of antidepressants) for an individual can be a trial-and-error process. It might take some time, and a few different approaches, to find the antidepressant that's right for a specific person.
Types of Antidepressants
Antidepressants are classified based on the brain chemicals that they will impact. These categories include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Each type of drug affects a different brain chemical or combination of brain chemicals to help with mood and behavior. There are also atypical antidepressants that aren’t as easy to classify but may still help with depression.
Benefits and Risks
When antidepressants are working, they can have a dramatic effect on people’s lives. People taking antidepressants may find that they can sleep better, fulfill their day-to-day obligations, interact with society more easily and even achieve a healthier weight. It’s important to be patient with antidepressants, however, as it takes time for them to be effective, and it may take a few tries before a person finds the right medication. All antidepressants have side effects, which could include anxiety, insomnia, vomiting and weight gain, so it’s important to speak with a doctor if the side effects of a prescribed antidepressant are problematic. The right antidepressant should offer relief from depression symptoms that far outweighs any side effects caused by the drug.
SOURCES: American Academy of Family Physicians; National MS Society