Antidepressant drugs are medicines that relieve symptoms of mental depression. They are used to treat serious, continuing mental depression that interferes with a person's ability to function. Everyone feels sad, "blue," or discouraged occasionally, but usually those feelings do not interfere with everydaylife and do not need treatment. However, when the feelings become overwhelming and last for weeks or months, professional treatment can help. Although depression is one of the most common and serious mental disorders, it is also one of the most treatable. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 80-90% of people with depression can be helped. If untreated, depression can lead to social withdrawal, physical complaints, such as fatigue, sleep problems, and aches and pains, and even suicide.
The first step in treating depression is an accurate diagnosis by a physicianor mental health professional. The physician or mental health professional will ask questions about the person's medical and psychiatric history and willtry to rule out other causes, such as thyroid problems or side effects of medicines the person is taking. Lab tests may be ordered to help rule out medical problems. Once a person has been diagnosed with depression, treatment willbe tailored to the person's specific problem. The treatment may consist of drugs alone, counseling alone, or drugs in combination with counseling methodssuch as psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy.
Antidepressant drugs help reduce the extreme sadness, hopelessness, and lackof 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.
Antidepressant drugs, also called antidepressants, are thought to work by influencing communication between cells in the brain. The drugs affect chemicalscalled neurotransmitters, which carry signals from one nerve cell to another. These neurotransmitters are involved in the control of mood and in other responses and functions, such as eating, sleep, pain, and thinking.
The main types of antidepressant drugs in use today are: Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline (Elavil), imipramine (Tofranil), nortriptyline (Pamelor); (SSRIs or serotonin boosters), such as fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft); Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAO inhibitors), such as phenelzine (Nardil), and tranylcypromine (Parnate); Lithium (used mainly to treat manic depression, but also sometimes prescribed for recurring bouts of depression).
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors act only on the neurotransmitter serotonin, while tricyclic antidepressants and MAO inhibitors act on both serotonin and another neurotransmitter, norepinephrine, and may also interact with other chemicals throughout the body. Because the neurotransmitters involved inthe control of moods are also involved in other processes, such as sleep, eating, and pain, drugs that affect these neurotransmitters can be used for more than just treating depression. Headache, eating disorders, bed-wetting, andother problems are now being treated with antidepressants.
All antidepressant drugs are effective, but certain types work best for certain kinds of depression. For example, people who are depressed and agitated dobest when they take an antidepressant drug that also calms them down. Peoplewho are depressed and withdrawn may benefit more from an antidepressant drugthat has a stimulating effect.
Recommended dosage depends on the kind of antidepressant drug, the type and severity of the condition for which it is prescribed, and other factors such as the patient's age. Check with the physician who prescribed the drug or thepharmacist who filled the prescription for the correct dosage. Always take antidepressant drugs exactly as directed. Never take larger or more frequent doses, and do not take the drug for longer than directed.
While antidepressant drugs help people feel better, they cannot solve problems in people's lives. Some mental health professionals worry that people who could benefit from psychotherapy rely instead on antidepressant drugs for a "quick fix." Others point out that the drugs work gradually and do not produceinstant happiness. The best approach is often a combination of counseling andmedicine, but the correct treatment for a specific patient depends on many factors. The decision of how to treat depression or other conditions that mayrespond to antidepressant drugs should be made carefully and will be different for different people.
Most antidepressant drugs do not begin working right away. The effects may not be felt for several weeks. Continuing to take the medicine is important, even if it does not seem to be working at first. There may be side effects depend on the type of antidepressant drug.
Antidepressant drugs may interact with a variety of other medicines. When this happens, the effects of one or both of the drugs may change or the risk ofside effects may be greater. Some interactions may be life-threatening. Anyone who takes antidepressant drugs should let the physician know all other medicines he or she is taking.