antidepressant medications

There are dozens of antidepressant medications approved and on the market for people to choose from when they need to treat mood and anxiety disorders (as well as other conditions sometimes), and there is a large percentage of the population in the United States taking the drugs.

As such, it’s very important that consumers are aware of what exactly these types of medications are, how they work, what the different types are, and when and how they should be taken.

If you’ve just been prescribed antidepressants, have a loved one who has, or think you might need to see a doctor about taking some soon, read on for the lowdown on all the basics you need to know today.

What Are Antidepressants and How Do They Work?

Antidepressants are psychiatric medications which are taken orally and which are designed to correct chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters in the brain. It is believed that these imbalances lead to changes in mood and behavior, and can cause depression and anxiety disorders.

Antidepressants are also prescribed to treat pain, insomnia and sometimes ADHD, as well as occasional other health conditions. The drugs were developed originally in the 1950s, but they have become progressively more prescribed over the past two decades. Antidepressant medications can help to reduce a variety of depressive symptoms, such as:

  • Feelings of worthlessness, or excessive worry or guilt
  • Feeling incredibly sad for no clear reason
  • Being very tired or being unable to sleep
  • Difficulty in concentrating, thinking clearly, or making decisions
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities usually enjoyed

In addition, these drugs can also be beneficial in treating generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social phobias.

Different Types of Antidepressants

There are a number of categories of antidepressants which physicians can prescribe, along with some atypical antidepressants which don’t fall into any particular type. You will need to discuss the choice of antidepressant with your practitioner, and potentially try a few different medications in order to find the one that most alleviates symptoms while at the same time having the fewest amount of side effects for you. This varies from person to person, so can involve some trial and error.

The most commonly prescribed antidepressants these days are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), because there are believed to cause fewer side effects than other types, and are seen to be safer. Some of the most common brands in this group are Lexapro, Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa, and Paxil.

The other main categories of antidepressants are serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), which are quite similar to SSRIs; norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs); and the older types of antidepressants such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs); and tricyclics antidepressants.

Possible Side Effects

While antidepressants are prescribed to millions of people each year, there is unfortunately also a wide variety of negative effects which can be caused from taking the drugs. Some of these issues can settle down after a few days or weeks, when your body has had a chance to adapt to the tablets, while others may persist.

It is important to discuss side effects with your doctor or to go to a hospital if they are bad. You may need to switch medications, or change the dose or the time of day you take the drugs. While each person will react differently to the medications, and differently to each type and brand, some of the bad reactions to look out for include:

  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Tiredness, insomnia and sleep disturbances
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Weight gain
  • Sweating
  • Lower sexual responsiveness and other sexual issues
  • Panic attacks
  • New or worsening depression, anxiety, or irritability
  • Thoughts about dying or committing suicide, or attempts to take one’s own life
  • Being restless, agitated, manic, or acting on dangerous impulses
  • Being uncharacteristically angry, or becoming aggressive or violent
  • Other unusual changes to mood or behavior

How to Take Antidepressants

To safely take antidepressants, it is important that you give your physician all the relevant information you can about your health. Divulge if you have any allergies, what other medications you’re taking (as well as any supplements), when you typically go to bed and wake up, what symptoms you have been struggling with, and so on.

Once you start taking the medication, you will need to give it a few weeks (generally one to three weeks, but it can take up to eight) to come into effect. During this period, take note of how you feel and update your doctor regularly. Tell them whether you’re feeling better or worse, and if you have noted any changes in your mood, appetite, anxiety level, sleeping patterns, energy level, sexual functioning, appetite, and the like. The practitioner will want to know about anything new or unusual.

You should store your medication in an appropriate place, such as in your kitchen cupboard or in your bedroom. Keep the tablets out of damp, hot places (such as bathrooms or cars), and keep them away from children.

Never share your medication with others, and make sure that you stick to the exact dosage that has been prescribed to you. Also follow the directions on the packet about how and when to take them (e.g. with food at dinner time, or other).

If you want to stop or reduce your medication, speak with your physician first. Note that you will typically have to reduce the dosage safely over time to minimize withdrawal issues and allow your body to safely adjust to the change.