Depression Medication: What it is and How it Can Help?

August 30, 2020

Depression is the most common mental health condition in the world, with 322 million individuals worldwide dealing with depression, and 15.7 million of those individuals being in the United States, making up for almost 7% of the U.S.’s adult population

With numbers this high, it’s likely that you or someone you know has suffered from depression at some point in time, and you may even have sought treatment. Although some stigma still exists around mental health treatment, an estimated 11% of individuals aged 12 years old or older are actually taking antidepressant medication. 

If you are suffering from depression or know someone who is, you may be interested in the treatment options available. Depression medication is an excellent tool for people who need help managing their depression, and it is especially effective when combined with talk therapy.

What is depression and what are the symptoms?

Although there are several different types of depression, clinical depression, sometimes called major depressive disorder, is the type of depression most people are familiar with. A diagnosis of clinical depression is made when a patient experiences persistent and intense feelings of sadness that last for an extended period of time, usually at least two weeks or more. Many people with clinical depression symptoms experience those symptoms for far longer, however. Clinical depression causes both physical and mental symptoms. Physical symptoms caused by clinical depression may include a lost appetite or a much larger appetite than normal, sleeping too little, or sleeping too much. Symptoms of major depressive disorder include:

  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, hopelessness, or helplessness
  • Nervous energy
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Feeling sad, empty, or tearful
  • Difficulty concentrating and low energy
  • Lost of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feelings of moving or thinking in slow motion
  • Sleeping and eating more or less than usual

What are the different types of depression medications and how do they work to treat depression?

There are four main types of antidepressant medications, each of which encompasses its own drug class. 

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are the most common type of antidepressant medication. This drug class was first introduced in the mid-1980s and is the largest class of antidepressant medications. SSRIs work by blocking the absorption of serotonin, which is a type of neurotransmitter in the brain. By blocking the absorption of serotonin, the amount of serotonin in the brain is regulated. This helps brain cells to communicate messages to each other, which helps to stabilize and lift the mood.  SSRIs normally cause mild side effects, but they can still be troublesome to some people. Potential side effects you may experience with SSRIs include things like nausea, sexual problems, dizziness, weight gain or loss, stomach upset, fatigue, insomnia, and headaches. Common SSRIs that are available for the treatment of depression include:

  • Celexa (citalopram)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)

Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, commonly called SNRIs, are the newest drug class of depression medication. The first SNRI, Effexor, was introduced to the market in 1993. SNRIs work by impacting how neurotransmitters in the brain communicate. Unlike SSRIs, which only block the absorption of serotonin, SNRIs work by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. Like SSRIs, this action contributes to a stabilized and improved mood. Side effects associated with SNRIs are also normally mild and include upset stomach, sexual problems, dizziness, insomnia, anxiety, and fatigue. Common SNRIs used for the treatment of depression include:

  • Effexor (venlafaxine)
  • Pristiq (desvenlafaxine)
  • Cymbalta (duloxetine)
  • Fetzima (levomilnacipran)

Tricyclic antidepressants

Some of the earliest medications used to treat depression belong to a class of drugs called tricyclic antidepressants. Tricyclic antidepressants were first introduced in the 1950s and work by increasing levels of norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain. In addition, tricyclic antidepressants also affect and block the action of other neurotransmitters in the brain, including acetylcholine and histamine. As a result, tricyclic antidepressants are used to the treatment of a variety of conditions outside of depression, but they also have more side effects than SSRIs and SNRIs. Common side effects commonly associated with tricyclic antidepressants include stomach upset, dry mouth, changes in blood sugar levels, dizziness, changes in blood pressure, and nausea. Common tricyclic antidepressants include:

  • Elavil (amitriptyline)
  • Norpramin (desipramine)
  • Adapin (doxepin)
  • Tofranil (imipramine)
  • Aventyl (nortriptyline)
  • Vivactil (protriptyline)
  • Surmontil (trimipramine)

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors were some of the very first treatments for depression. These effective medications work by blocking the action of the monoamine oxidase enzyme, which causes serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine levels to increase in the brain. MAOIs were once popular medications because they work well for the treatment of depression, but they are no longer prescribed very often because they have serious drug interactions with many other common types of medications as well as some types of foods, including aged cheeses and meats. Side effects commonly associated with MAOIs include dry mouth, headache, insomnia, skin reaction at the patch site, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, drowsiness, or dizziness. Common types of MAOIs include:

  • Nardil (phenelzine)
  • Parnate (tranylcypromine)
  • Marplan (isocarboxazid)
  • EMSAM skin patch (transdermal selegiline)

​Atypical antidepressants

There are also other types of medication that are used to treat depression, referred to as “atypical antidepressants,” that do not fall into one of the four main categories but can still be effective depression treatment. Some examples include:

  • Trazodone, which is tetracyclic that works to restore serotonin
  • Wellbutrin (bupropion) which helps with serotonin and dopamine reuptake
  • Remeron (mirtazapine) which focuses on noradrenaline and serotonin levels. 

What should I know before taking depression medication?

There are a few things that you should know before starting to take depression medication. Making the decision to take medication for your depression can feel very overwhelming to some people, and many expect the medication to work right away. 

Some people experience more relief from their symptoms if they take more than one type of medication for their depression, as there’s potential that some antidepressants work together with other medications to help improve even severe depression. Medications that are sometimes combined with antidepressants for the treatment of treatment-resistant depression include:

  • Antipsychotic medications, including Abilify, Rexulti, and Seroquel
  • Lithium carbonate, a mood-stabilizing medication often used for the treatment of bipolar disorder
  • Stimulant medications, including Vyvanse and Ritalin
  • Buspar, a type of anti-anxiety medication that can be helpful in the treatment of depression

How can I maximize the effectiveness of my depression medication?

While depression medication is an important treatment tool for many people who suffer from the condition, there are other lifestyle changes that can help patients get the most out of their treatment and maximize the effectiveness of their depression medication. Patients taking depression medication should consider the following:

  • Seeking support: Support from friends, family members, community organizations, or depression support groups can be extremely helpful in treating depression. Being around people who understand how you are feeling and can provide support is vital.
  • Take your medication: Depression medication can sometimes take a while before they start producing noticeable effects, so stick with it. Many medications will take up to eight weeks before they produce their full effect, so don’t change your dose or quit taking your medication without first speaking to your doctor.
  • Note side effects: Although some side effects are common with depression medication, side effects are one of the main reasons why patients stop taking their medication. Make a note of any side effects you experience as well as the circumstances surrounding them, and talk to your doctor if you need advice on how to minimize or eliminate them. Many side effects do ease up over time, so don’t be alarmed if they seem worse at first.
  • Never stop your medication without permission: Because antidepressants work your brain chemicals, they should never be stopped abruptly. Stopping the use of antidepressants without a gradual reduction in dose can cause increased side effects and may make your depression worse. Always talk to your doctor prior to stopping the use of your medication.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle: Living a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, as well as exercising regularly, has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. While it can be difficult to find the motivation to workout when you’re depressed, even going for a walk can make a huge difference in your mental health.

While entering the world of depression medication and depression management can seem daunting, YANA is an easy to use, accessible, affordable mental health clinic that can help get you started with an effective treatment plan to get you feeling back to normal. Based on what you need, YANA matches you with expert mental health professionals who can evaluate what’s going on and provide you with a personalized treatment plan to help you improve your mental wellness, including options to begin prescription depression medication that quickly and discreetly ships right to your door. 

Depression is tough, but it’s not impossible with the right resources. Get started with YANA today and see for yourself what a little extra help can do for your mental wellness. 

Sources:

https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/optimizing-depression-medicines#1

https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/selective-serotonin-reuptake-inhibitors-ssris

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4428540/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/antidepressants/art-20044970

https://www.drugs.com/drug-class/tricyclic-antidepressants.html

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/maois/art-20043992

https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-types#1