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For Adults: Take Care with Antidepressants

Antidepressants are an important part of the treatment for depression. With the help of antidepressants, prescribed alone or along with psychotherapy or counseling, the great majority of adults who suffer with depression improve, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH). 

Depression is a complex brain disorder that affects how well nerve cells in certain parts of the brain work. Antidepressants improve the way some of those brain cells work and change the activity of certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Antidepressants are powerful medications that affect people mentally, emotionally, and physically and must be taken with care to increase their benefits and decrease their chances of any serious side effects.

Many antidepressants are available, and sometimes you and your doctor may need to try several to find the one that is best for you, according to the FDA and NIMH. Also, these drugs take time to be effective; it may take a few weeks to know if one is helping you. Your health care provider will help you find the one drug or a combination of drugs that work.

 It's important to take antidepressants exactly as prescribed. Doing a good job of communicating with your doctor and pharmacist about your symptoms and your medication use also is important.

Variety available

Examples of the variety of antidepressants available:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants, such as Elavil and Pamelor

  • SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), such as Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, Celexa, and Paxil

  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, such as Effexor, Pristiq, and Cymbalta

  • Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors, such as Wellbutrin

  • Tetracyclics, such as Remeron

  • MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), such as Nardil, Parnate, and Emsam (a skin patch)

Possible side effects

Most antidepressants cause side effects, but many of the side effects ease after taking the drug for a period of time, the FDA says. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what side effects to expect of your antidepressant and if there are more serious side effects that you should report to your doctor. Don't stop taking medications or decrease your dose because of side effects without first talking with your health care provider. Different drugs have different side effects. Among common side effects are:

  • Nausea

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Constipation

  • Urination problems, primarily in men

  • Dizziness

  • Sleepiness or problems falling asleep

  • Dry mouth

  • Restlessness

  • Blurred vision

Medication musts

  • Stick with your medication. It often takes three to eight weeks before antidepressants take effect and you start feeling better.

  • Ask about drug interactions. Antidepressants can have an effect on many other medicines and vice versa. When you're taking an antidepressant, tell your health care provider and pharmacist about all the other medicines you take, including over-the-counter medicines and herbal health products.

  • St. John's Wort is a nonprescription herbal product sometimes used by people for mild depression. It is not approved by the FDA to treat depression and can interact with other antidepressants, according to the NIMH. Let your doctor know if you are taking St. John's Wort. 

  • Follow instructions carefully. Taking an antidepressant exactly as prescribed, including the time of day, is crucial. You should never stop taking your medication without checking with your health care provider. Doing so could cause your depression to return with possible risk for suicide or cause symptoms from the sudden withdrawal. To stop taking an antidepressant safely, you should taper off your dosage over time, as your provider prescribes.

  • Follow any warnings carefully. Some antidepressants cause drowsiness, making certain activities dangerous. Call your health care provider immediately if your depression becomes worse, you start to have suicidal thinking or begin to think of ways to commit suicide.

Tell your health care provider if you become pregnant or start to breastfeed a child. You may have to change medications.