Antidepressants are a type of medication used to treat depression. They can also be used to treat a number of other conditions. including:
generalised anxiety disorder
post-traumatic stress disorder
There are a number of antidepressants available that work in slightly different ways and have different side effects. Most of them work equally well to relieve depression, so choosing the right one generally involves subtle differences.
Antidepressants work by changing the levels of a group of chemicals in the brain called "neurotransmitters". Certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine can improve mood and emotion.
Increasing the levels of neurotransmitters is a gradual process. Most people will need to take antidepressants for two to four weeks before they notice any improvement in their symptoms.
Increasing levels of neurotransmitters can also disrupt pain signals sent by nerves, which may explain why some antidepressants can also help relieve symptoms of chronic (long-term) pain.
While antidepressants treat the symptoms of depression, they do not necessarily address its causes. This is why they are usually used in combination with therapy to treat moderate to severe depression or other mental health conditions.
Antidepressants are usually taken in tablet form. A course of treatment usually lasts for six months. A two-year course may be recommended for people with a previous history of depression.
Many doctors start depression treatment by prescribing an SSRI. SSRIs are safe and relieve depression for most people. However, like many antidepressants, they can cause sexual side effects — most commonly failure to achieve orgasm in women and delayed ejaculation in men. SSRIs include:
Fluoxetine (Fluox, Lovan)
Alternative treatments for depression include talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Increasingly, people with moderate to severe depression are treated using a combination of antidepressants and CBT.
Regular exercise has also been shown to be useful in those with mild depression symptoms.