In this day and age, there is more help available for those suffering with depression than at any time in the past. Strides in cognitive-behavioral therapy as well as newer, more effective prescription medications make dealing with depression easier than ever before. There are several different classes of anitdepressants on the market today, and, in some cases, doctors also prescribe mood stabilizers or antianxiety medications to fight specific symptoms or treat certain depressive disorders. In rare cases, antipsychotics are also used.
If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, the main type of medication used to treat your symptoms will most likely be an antidepressant, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Antidepressants fall into three main types: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), Tricyclic antidepressants, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). SSRIs are the most popular antidepressants because of their relatively low incidence of negative side effect and their general effectiveness.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been around since the late 1980s, and the first SSRI to hit the scene was Prozac. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that controls mood, and depression is often linked to noticeably low levels of serotonin in the system. SSRIs help by blocking reabsorbsion of serotonin by the neurons that release it, allowing more serotonin to be picked up by receptor sites that can use it to stabilize mood, thus warding off depression. Brand name SSRIs available today include:
While there are fewer side effects with SSRIs, there are still some negative side effects to be aware of: nausea, insomnia, and, most notably, sexual dysfunction, especially in men. In very rare cases, SSRIs can increase suicidal tendencies, especially in children and teens. It is always recommended that these medications be taken under a doctor’s supervision.
Before there were SSRIs, there were Tricyclic antidepressants. Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) have a three-ring molecular structure, hence the name. They increase levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine (which is responsible for mood and anxiety) and serotonin, blocking the neurons where these brain chemicals are produced from reabsorbing them. Because of their simultaneous effect on another neurotransmitter (acetylcholine), they also have a tendency to increase the likelihood of constipation, vision problems, difficulty urinating and dizziness. They can also cause an abnormal heart beat. If SSRIs are ineffective, a doctor might prescribe a TCA. Otherwise, they are not generally the first choice in fighting depression. Brand name TCAs include:
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) block the chemical monoamine oxidase. This chemical is used to break down the monoamines norepinephrine and serotonin, decreasing their availability. MAOIs are especially effective in fighting anxiety related to depression, panic attacks, and atypical depression symptoms. Because they can have negative interactions with any foods containing tyramine, such as cheese, beer, red wine, and yogurt. This chemical is broken down by monoamine oxidase, and a build up of it in the body can cause high blood pressure that leads to stroke in some cases. MAOIs can also cause liver damage in rare instances. Brand names include:
There are three other antidepressants that have been released in the last few years. These antidepressants include:
All three of these antidepressants might be called atypical antidepressants because they are not chemically related to the three major classes of prescription antidepressants: SSRIs, Tricyclics, and MAOIs. Wellbutrin affects levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. It works as a stimulant against depression, and it is also sometimes prescribed to diminish nicotine cravings for anyone quitting smoking. Effexor and Serzone both balance out levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain to fight the symptoms of depression
Mood Stabilizers and Antipsychotics
Mood stabilizers are used to treat mood swings related to bipolar disorder. In fact, because antidepressants can trigger mania related to bipolar disorder, mood stabilizers are often used in lieu of an antidepressant. For those with major depressive disorder, mood stabilizers can be used in conjunction with an antidepressant to improve relief. The two main mood stabilizers are lithium and valproate, and brand names include:
Antipsychotics are used in very rare cases. Some individuals suffering with major depressive disorder have psychotic episodes during which they might hallucinate, hear voices, or experience extreme delusions. Antipsychotics can have serious side effects, and they’re a last defense against severe depressive symptoms. They often cause weight gain, drowsiness, upset stomach, fever, seizures, dangerous drops in white blood cell count, rapid heart rate, and movement disorders. For those who do suffer with psychotic episodes related to depression, though, these drugs are a necessity. Psychotic depression greatly increases the risk of suicide. Brand names include:
If you’re experiencing symptoms of any type of depressive disorder, speak with your doctor about which prescription medications are right for you. Make sure to let your doctor know if you experience any effects the medication might have once you’ve started taking it. There is always a period of adjustment, and dosages or medications may have to be switched several times to find the one that’s right for you.