Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

Medication for Depression

Table of Contents

Depression is a prevalent and severe condition impacting the mental health of those affected. It’s a complex mood disorder characterized by a persistent sense of sadness, lack of interest, and difficulty in carrying out daily activities. The intensity and duration of these symptoms differentiate depression from occasional feelings of sadness, extending beyond temporary emotional responses to life’s challenges.

The Role of Medication in Treating Depression

For many individuals with depression, medication serves as an essential element of their treatment strategy. Medication, while not a cure, can substantially alleviate depressive symptoms, improving the quality of life for many patients.

Available Medication Options for Depression Treatment

There is a range of medications available for treating depression, each with its own unique mechanisms of action and potential side effects. Some of these include Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs), Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs), and Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs). The choice of medication largely depends on the individual’s specific symptoms, the severity of depression, their overall health status, and their personal response to medication.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a common yet severe mood disorder. It negatively affects your feelings, thoughts, and actions, making it hard to function and enjoy life as you once did. Depression is more than just having a few bad days; it’s feeling persistently sad and uninterested for weeks or months.

Different Types of Depression

Depression comes in many forms, and understanding the type of depression, you have can help in managing your symptoms effectively. Some common types include:

  • Major Depressive Disorder (MDD): This type, also known as clinical depression, involves severe depressive symptoms that interfere with your ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy life. Each episode of MDD can occur only once in a person’s lifetime, but more often, a person has several episodes.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD): Also known as dysthymia, PDD is a type of depression that lasts for at least two years. A person diagnosed with PDD may have episodes of major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms.
  • Bipolar Disorder: Though not a form of depression, bipolar disorder deserves mention here because it often involves episodes of severe depression. It is characterized by mood episodes that range from extremes of high energy with an “up” mood (mania) to a low “down” mood (depression).
  • Postpartum Depression: Women who have major depression in the weeks and months after childbirth may have postpartum depression. It is more severe than the “baby blues,” which many women experience after giving birth.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): This type of depression comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer.
  • Treatment-Resistant Depression: This term refers to depression that doesn’t respond to treatments, including at least two different antidepressants given at the right dose for the right amount of time.

Common Symptoms and Effects of Depression

Depression’s impact on individuals varies, but there are common physical and emotional symptoms. It’s important to remember that these symptoms can range from mild to severe. Depression symptoms may include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies or activities
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight (unintentional weight loss or weight gain)
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Physical symptoms, such as aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment.

Depression doesn’t just affect the mind; it also affects the body. Some physical effects include chronic pain, changes in appetite or weight, sleep problems, and more. People with depression often have other mental health conditions as well, such as anxiety disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They might also be more likely to have physical illnesses like heart disease or diabetes.

Treatment Approaches for Depression

Effective management of depression often necessitates a multifaceted approach. This typically includes some combination of medication, psychotherapy, lifestyle changes, and in more severe cases, hospitalization. The following are some common treatment approaches:

  • Pharmacotherapy (Medications): Various types of prescription medications, including antidepressants, can be effective in treating moderate to severe depression.
  • Psychotherapy: This approach involves speaking with a mental health professional to better understand and manage one’s depression.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Regular exercise, a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and reducing alcohol consumption can significantly impact your mental health.
  • Hospitalization: In severe cases of depression, particularly where there is a risk of self-harm or suicide, hospitalization may be necessary.

Role of Medication in Comprehensive Treatment Plans for Depression

Pharmacotherapy plays a significant role in the treatment of depression. The primary goal of medication is to mitigate symptoms, enabling individuals to engage more fully in other facets of treatment, such as psychotherapy. The following are commonly prescribed antidepressants:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often the first line of treatment. They work by increasing levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps regulate mood.
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) also affect neurotransmitters and are used to treat major depression and other mood disorders.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) can be highly effective, although they are generally reserved for cases where other treatments have failed due to their more substantial side-effect profile.
  • Atypical Antidepressants are a miscellaneous category of drugs, each with unique mechanisms and side effects.

It’s important to remember that while these medications can be very effective, they can also come with side effects, such as weight gain, sleep disturbances, and sexual issues. They can also lead to withdrawal symptoms if stopped abruptly – a condition known as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome.

Therapy Options

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can be a powerful treatment for depression. Different types of psychotherapy can be effective for depression, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy (IPT).

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT assists individuals in recognizing and restructuring negative thought patterns and behaviors that can contribute to depression.
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT): IPT focuses on improving one’s relationships and social functioning to help reduce depression.

Finding the right treatment may take time and patience. Working closely with your mental health specialist is crucial to find the best treatment for your needs. Not every treatment will work for everyone, and what worked at one time may not work as well if your depression gets worse. Therefore, maintaining an open line of communication with your mental health professional is key.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are frontline agents in the treatment of depression. Their primary function revolves around the neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays a pivotal role in mood regulation. SSRIs help by balancing the levels of serotonin in the brain.

Mechanism of Action and Effectiveness of SSRIs

SSRIs work by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin in the brain’s synapses, thereby increasing the availability of serotonin in the brain. Increased serotonin levels can ameliorate depressive symptoms, improving mood and decreasing anxiety.

Commonly Prescribed SSRIs for Depression Treatment

Several SSRIs are commonly prescribed, including:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)

These SSRIs, while effective, may sometimes cause side effects such as sexual dysfunction, weight gain, and sleep disturbances.

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) are another class of antidepressant drugs that treat depression by increasing serotonin and norepinephrine levels, two neurotransmitters in mood regulation.

How SNRIs Work and Their Effectiveness in Alleviating Depressive Symptoms

SNRIs work by preventing serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake in the brain, thereby increasing their availability. This dual-action mechanism can enhance mood and boost energy levels, proving beneficial in managing depressive symptoms.

Common SNRIs Used in the Treatment of Depression

Commonly prescribed SNRIs include:

  • Venlafaxine (Effexor)
  • Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
  • Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs) are an older class of antidepressants, less frequently prescribed today due to their higher risk of side effects compared to newer antidepressants.

Mechanism of Action and Effects of TCAs

TCAs work by increasing the levels of norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain and blocking the action of acetylcholine, another neurotransmitter. While these drugs can be effective, they also carry side effects like dry mouth, blurred vision, and constipation.

Considerations and Potential Side Effects of TCA Use

It’s important to discuss any other medications you’re taking with your doctor, as some can interact negatively with TCAs, causing adverse effects.

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) are typically used as a last-resort treatment when other antidepressants have not been effective. These are older drugs with potentially significant health risks.

How MAOIs Work and Their Effectiveness in Managing Depressive Symptoms

MAOIs function by inhibiting the activity of monoamine oxidase, an enzyme responsible for breaking down serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. By blocking this enzyme, MAOIs increase the levels of these mood-regulating chemicals in the brain.

Considerations, Dietary Restrictions, and Potential Risks of MAOI Use

If you’re taking MAOIs, you need to avoid certain foods and drinks, like aged cheese, pickled foods, and wine, as they can interact with the medication and cause dangerously high blood pressure.

Atypical Antidepressants and Other Emerging Medications

Atypical antidepressants are a heterogeneous group of medications with mechanisms of action that differ from those of traditional antidepressants. These may be considered when other treatments have been ineffective.

Exploring Other Emerging Medications and Novel Approaches in Depression Treatment

Research is ongoing to develop new ways to treat depression, which include exploring novel medications and treatments such as brain stimulation therapies.

Considerations and Effectiveness of Atypical Antidepressants and Emerging Medications

Atypical antidepressants can be effective, but like all medications, they may have side effects. Having a comprehensive discussion with your healthcare provider about the potential benefits and risks associated with these treatment options is vital.

Combination Therapy and Adjunctive Medications

Exploring the Use of Combination Therapy for Depression

In some cases, a single antidepressant may not be sufficient to relieve the symptoms of depression. In such instances, doctors might suggest the use of more than one depression medication simultaneously, a strategy known as combination therapy. This approach can include combinations like:

  • SSRIs and SNRIs
  • SSRIs or SNRIs with atypical antidepressants
  • Antidepressants with mood stabilizers in the case of bipolar depression

Adjunctive Medications to Enhance Depression Treatment

Alongside primary antidepressants, adjunctive medications can be utilized to enhance therapeutic effects. These can include:

  • Mood stabilizers: These can help control fluctuations in mood, particularly in conditions like bipolar disorder.
  • Antipsychotics: These can be beneficial for those with severe or treatment-resistant depression or those experiencing psychotic symptoms.
  • Anti-anxiety medications: For patients whose depression is accompanied by high levels of anxiety, these medications can provide additional relief.

Considerations and Effectiveness of Combining Medications for Depression

While combining medications can sometimes provide enhanced relief from depressive symptoms, it also increases the potential for side effects and interactions. It’s crucial to discuss the risks and benefits with your healthcare provider and to monitor any changes in symptoms or overall health closely.

Challenges and Considerations in Medication-Based Treatment for Depression

Depression medication, while beneficial, may also present challenges. While antidepressants can significantly relieve depression symptoms, they can also cause side effects such as:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weight gain
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Increased anxiety at the beginning of treatment

In some cases, antidepressants can lead to more severe issues, like serotonin syndrome—a potentially life-threatening condition caused by excess serotonin. Moreover, finding the most effective medication and dosage for each individual may take several weeks.

Balancing Medication with Psychotherapy and Lifestyle Modifications

Medication is an integral part of depression treatment, but it’s typically most effective when combined with psychotherapy and lifestyle changes such as:

  • Regular physical activity
  • Healthy dietary habits
  • Adequate sleep
  • Stress management techniques like mindfulness or yoga

Importance of Regular Monitoring, Communication with Healthcare Professionals, and Patient Education

Regular check-ups with healthcare professionals are vital to monitor progress, manage side effects, and make necessary adjustments to the treatment plan. It’s equally important for individuals to understand their condition and treatment, enabling active participation in their care.


Medications can be a very important part of treating depression. They work in different ways to help balance the chemicals in the brain and improve mood.

If you think you might be dealing with depression, seeking help from a mental health professional is important. They can help you understand your options and find a treatment plan that works for you.

Everyone is different, and what works for one person might not work for another. It’s important to find a treatment that is personalized for you. This often includes both medication and psychotherapy.

Depression can feel overwhelming, but remember; you’re not alone. There are many people and resources that can help. Don’t hesitate to reach out for the help you need.

Find Your Path to Recovery at NuView Treatment Center

When it comes to managing and overcoming depression, medication is just one piece of the puzzle. At NuView Treatment Center, we understand that effective treatment is personalized, comprehensive, and patient-focused. We are dedicated to providing individualized care plans that combine medication management with evidence-based therapeutic approaches, all within an environment that fosters compassion, support, and growth.

Don’t face your journey alone. Reach out to the mental health professionals at NuView Treatment Center today at (323) 307-7997 or send us a message from our contact page, and take the first step towards a brighter, healthier future. You don’t just have to cope with depression; you can conquer it with the right support and resources. Let us help you find the path to recovery that works best for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Yes, certain antidepressants, particularly tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), have been used to treat chronic nerve pain. They can help by increasing the levels of certain chemicals in the brain that influence how the body perceives pain.

It depends on the specific medications involved. Some antidepressants can interact with other drugs, leading to an increased risk of side effects or reduced effectiveness of the medications. Always inform your healthcare provider about any prescription medications, over-the-counter medicines, or supplements you’re taking.

Some antidepressants, especially SNRIs and certain atypical antidepressants, can cause an increase in blood pressure in some people. Regular monitoring of blood pressure is advisable for individuals on these medications.

Serotonin syndrome is a potentially life-threatening condition that can occur when taking certain drugs, including some types of antidepressants. It’s caused by an excess of serotonin, a chemical your neurons produce. Symptoms can range from mild (shivering, diarrhea) to severe (muscle rigidity, fever, seizures). If you experience any of these symptoms while taking antidepressants, seek immediate medical attention.

In general, it’s best to avoid alcohol while taking these medications. Alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of antidepressants and increase their side effects, especially drowsiness, dizziness, and coordination problems.

In some cases, particularly during the first few weeks of treatment, some people may feel like their depression symptoms get worse before they get better. Antidepressants can also trigger a manic or hypomanic episode in people with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. If you have concerns or experience worsening symptoms, reach out to your healthcare provider promptly.

Antidepressants can be used to treat all levels of depression, from mild to severe. However, for mild depression, lifestyle modifications and psychotherapy are usually tried first. The decision to use antidepressants will be based on a discussion between you and your healthcare provider, taking into account your personal needs and circumstances.

While you can’t technically “get addicted” to antidepressants, suddenly stopping them can lead to withdrawal symptoms, a phenomenon known as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. This is why it’s important never to stop taking these medications without the guidance of a healthcare provider.

Some antidepressants, when taken during pregnancy, have been associated with certain birth defects. However, untreated depression in the mother can also carry risks for both mother and baby. It’s a complex decision that should be made in consultation with a healthcare provider who can weigh the potential risks and benefits.

Most health insurance plans cover antidepressant medications, but coverage can vary widely. Check with your insurance provider for specifics about what is covered under your plan.

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National Institute of Mental Health. “Depression.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021,

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Locher, Cosima et al. “Efficacy and Safety of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors, and Placebo for Common Psychiatric Disorders Among Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” JAMA psychiatry vol. 74,10 (2017): 1011-1020. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.2432

Moraczewski J, Aedma KK. Tricyclic Antidepressants. [Updated 2022 Nov 21]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:

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“Breakthrough Therapies Offer New Options for Treating Depression.” Froedtert & MCW Health Network, Froedtert & MCW Health Network, 9 May 2023,

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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