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What should I know about medication for depression?

In certain circumstances, depression can be managed with talk therapy alone. In other situations, medicine may be an option.

The fact is, regardless of what has been suggested to you, you have two options: you can take antidepressants to treat your depression, or you don’t take antidepressants. If you’re reading this, you probably want to understand your choices so you can talk to your doctor or your mental health professional about them and feel good (or better) about whatever choice you do decide to make.

First, are you depressed?

The following are some signs and symptoms of depression. If you have felt any or all of these symptoms for at least two weeks or more, please see your doctor or mental health professional for an official diagnosis.

  • Persistent feelings of sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Insomnia
  • Hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling guilt, regret or unworthiness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal ideation

As we said earlier, sometimes counseling or talk therapy is enough to help people manage their depression, especially if they’re incorporating exercise and lifestyle changes to the mix. But when the depression is severe, or if you feel like talk therapy just isn’t enough, your doctor may suggest antidepressants.

Antidepressants work by increasing the level of certain chemicals in your brain, also known as neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are responsible for improving communication between brain cells over time. They don’t change your personality or make you “different,” and they’re not a surefire, absolute guarantee. Antidepressants help your symptoms. You may find that you have to try a few different types before you find the one that works for you.

Most people say that they start to feel better one to three weeks after starting an antidepressant, but some have reported that it can take up to six to eight weeks before they start feeling well. It’s so important not to give up on a course of treatment without the evaluation and advice of a doctor, because like any medication, it must be monitored.

Antidepressants can cause minor side effects, most of which improve or go away entirely after the first few weeks of treatment. You might feel nausea, dry mouth, drowsiness, diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite, weight gain, or headaches. You might have a hard time falling asleep. You may feel “on edge.” For some people, the side effects never fully go away, so there has to be a discussion with your doctor on how to manage them. If you are feeling extreme side effects, such as suicidal ideation, talk to your doctor right away.

Experts say that depression treated only with antidepressants is more likely to return. Talk therapy and lifestyle changes are key to managing depression, and medication can help.

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