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Understanding your Depression: Medication Treatment

There are a number of different types of antidepressants and medications that may be prescribed by a doctor to treat depression. According to the Depression Alliance (2007), antidepressants work by normalising the activity levels of brain chemicals which affect our mood. Antidepressants do not work straight away; your body takes time to adjust to the medication and you should not give up straight away. If you are prescribed antidepressants you should take the full course unless otherwise recommended by your doctor. Sometimes a different antidepressant will be prescribed if the original is not effective. Current medical advice is that antidepressants are not addictive, however they can cause some side-effects and withdrawal symptoms if stopped suddenly or a does is missed.

Provided below is a summary of the types of antidepressants that might be prescribed by your doctor (NHS, 2009):

  • SSRIs
    An SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) will commonly be prescribed for sufferers of depression eg. Fluoxetine, citalopram and sertraline. SSRIs increase the level of a natural chemical in your brain called serotonin, which helps to lift your mood. There are some side effects that may occur when starting SSRIs, such as nausea, headache, sleep problems and anxiety, however these tend to improve over time. Some SSRIs should not be prescribed for children under the age of 18 years and should only be prescribed by a doctor.
  • TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants), such as dothiepin, imipramine and amitryptyline. These are used to treat moderate to severe depression and work by raising the levels of the chemicals serotonin and noradrenaline in your brain, which both help to lift your mood. You should not smoke cannabis if you are taking TCAs because it can cause your heart to beat rapidly.
  • MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), such as phenelzine sulphate, is sometimes used to treat 'atypical depression'. This is when you tend to eat and sleep more than usual. You should not smoke cannabis if you are taking MAOIs because it may affect the way these medicines work.
  • New antidepressants, such as venlafaxine, nefazodone, and mirtazapine, work in a slightly different way from SSRIs and tricyclics and are known as SSNIs (Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). Like TCAs, these antidepressants work by changing the levels of serotonin and noradrenaline in your brain. Studies have shown that a SSNI like venlafaxine can be more effective than a SSRI, though it is not routinely prescribed as it can lead to a rise in blood pressure.

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