Depression is a serious health condition that experts are working hard to address. Depressive disorders affect over 16 million adults in the U.S. alone. So, what can we do about it, and what are the different treatment options for depression?
Antidepressant medications are one route of treatment that people with depression can take to find relief from their symptoms. Over 13% of American adults report taking antidepressants in the past 30 days. So, are antidepressants the right choice of treatment for you? Here, we’ll go over everything you need to know about the different types of antidepressants, how can depression be treated with antidepressants, how effective they are, and what other treatment options for depression are available to you.
What Are Antidepressants?
First, let’s talk about what antidepressants actually are. The term antidepressant refers to a broad umbrella category of psychiatric medications that are used to treat depression symptoms. Antidepressant medications work by changing your brain chemistry and targeting the brain chemicals that are affected by depression. Under this general umbrella of “antidepressants,” there are several specific types of commonly prescribed antidepressants. These include:
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
More commonly known as SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are one of the most commonly prescribed types of antidepressant medication. Different brand names of SSRIs include Zoloft, Prozac, and Paxil. SSRIs work to change the amount of serotonin that’s available in the brain. Doctors usually prescribe SSRIs first, because they’re effective with the least amount of side effects for most people.
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
These antidepressants, also called SNRIs, work in a similar way as SSRIs. Brand names include Effexor and Cymbalta. SNRIs change your brain chemistry by affecting both serotonin and norepinephrine — both neurotransmitters that are affected by depression.
These are an older class of antidepressant medication; brand names include Elavil (Amitriptyline) and Tofranil (Imipramine). Tricyclic medications can sometimes come with more side effects than newer types of antidepressants like SSRIs and SNRIs. Because of this, people usually opt for newer medications above tricyclics; however, tricyclics can still be effective, especially if you’ve tried SSRIs and SNRIs and haven’t found relief.
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
MAOIs can come with serious side effects, so they’re usually only prescribed when other types of medications haven’t worked. Brand names for MAOIs include Nardil and Parnate.
Atypical antidepressants are any kind of antidepressant medication that doesn’t fall into any of the above 4 categories. The main atypical antidepressants are Wellbutrin, Trazodone, and Remeron.
Are Antidepressants Effective in Treating Depression?
Antidepressants can be an effective way to treat depression once the right combinations and dosages are found for individual patients, so it’s clear why many people look to medication first to help fight their depression symptoms. Over half of people who take antidepressant medication find relief from their depression symptoms. The exact efficacy rates differ for each medication and depend on other factors — like your personal symptoms and health history. In general, though, antidepressants are recommended as a first-line treatment for depression because they are helpful in reducing symptoms.
Antidepressants are the most effective for people with moderate to severe depression. In essence, the more severe your depression is, the more likely it is that you’ll find relief with antidepressant medications. If your depression is mild, then other types of treatment (like psychotherapy) are more likely to be helpful for you.
Antidepressants become more effective when paired with an evidence-based psychotherapy method like cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, or problem-focused therapy.
Overall, antidepressant medication is effective, especially for people with severe depression. But it isn’t always effective, and there are other ways to manage your depression if you decide that antidepressants aren’t for you.
Can Your Depression Be Managed with Other Forms of Treatment?
Ultimately, whether or not you decide to take antidepressants is up to you. Many people all over the world have found relief from their mental health symptoms with antidepressants and other types of psychiatric medications. Although the stigma against medication is still very high, antidepressants are a legitimate and effective form of mental health treatment. There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to manage your depression with antidepressants.
With that said, if you don’t think that antidepressants are for you, that’s okay, too. Antidepressants are just one of many effective treatment options for depression. If you have severe depression, antidepressants might be called for to give you the best chance possible to recover from your symptoms. However, if your symptoms are mild, then your depression can be managed with other forms of treatment.
Evidence-based psychotherapy methods have been found to be just as effective as antidepressant medication in the treatment of depression. Some studies have even found that therapy can be even more effective than medication for some people.
The types of therapy that have been found to be helpful for people with depression are:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
- Problem-solving therapy (PST)
All of these types of psychotherapy have been found to be equally effective treatment options for depression.
Comprehensive Mental Health: Steps to Take When You’re Struggling
Physical exercise is consistently recommended by experts as a cost-effective and simple way to manage your depression symptoms. Almost every study that has examined the relationship between exercise and depression has found that getting moderate physical exercise is very effective in lifting your mood and managing symptoms of depression. Research has also shown that getting exercise makes antidepressants more effective.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS therapy)
TMS is a brain stimulation technique that’s effective for treatment-resistant depression. If you’ve tried antidepressants and psychotherapy and haven’t found any relief from your symptoms, then TMS may be right for you. TMS uses painless micro-pulses to directly stimulate the regions of your brain that are affected by depression. It’s safe and well-tolerated by most people, so this may be a good option for you if you’re worried about the potential side effects of antidepressants.
Building a strong social support system is another great way to manage your symptoms of depression. Research has found that having social support mitigates the effects of stress and can protect you from depression. If you don’t feel like you have strong emotional support in your life, try joining a mental health support group.
Mindfulness, an ancient spiritual practice rooted in Asian religious traditions, has been found to help people with their depression symptoms. Mindfulness, to put it simply, is the practice of being present without attachment in each moment, no matter how painful. Some Western practitioners have created treatment manuals and workbooks specifically on how to use mindfulness as a treatment option for depression.
What Does Your Doctor Recommend?
Whether or not you decide to go with antidepressants or another treatment option for depression is between you and your prescribing doctor. Talk to your provider about antidepressants and whether they might be a good fit for your situation. They can assess your symptoms and decide which antidepressant medication might be the best for you. Make sure you talk to them about any concerns you have about antidepressants; they may be able to recommend other treatment options for depression that are effective.
Genesis Behavioral Health in San Antonio, Texas
At Genesis, we are committed to working alongside you throughout your mental health journey. With our comprehensive mental health approach, we call on the expertise of counselors, psychiatrists, and TMS specialists to help you make informed, holistic decisions about your mental health treatment — like whether or not to pursue treatment with antidepressants.
Reach out to our intake department today to learn how we can support you as you explore your treatment options for depression.