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Dr William Shanahan 360x246

Page medically reviewed by Dr William Shanahan, Medical Director and Clinical Director of Addictions (BAO, BCh, DCH, D'OBS, FRCPsych, MB), Priory Hospital Roehampton, in May 2023.

Depression is a common mental health condition that affects millions of people in the UK. It can make it difficult to carry out your day-to-day activities and can have a negative impact on your quality of life. However, there are a number of treatment options available for depression, which can help you to get back on track. One of these is depression medication, or antidepressants.

Here, we will explore antidepressants in more detail and answer some frequently asked questions.

What are antidepressants?

Antidepressants are prescription medications that are used to treat depression, including clinical depression. They work by increasing the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, known as neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are involved in regulating things like sleep, appetite and mood.

There are many different types of antidepressants, and you will be prescribed the one that best fits your needs and symptoms – a decision that will be made with your doctor or other medical professional. This will also take into account whether you’re experiencing any other difficulties alongside your depression, such as anxiety or insomnia.

Antidepressants can also sometimes be used to treat other mental health conditions, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), with ruminations and intrusive thoughts
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder

However, it is important to understand that antidepressants do not address the root cause of your condition or provide long-term solutions. Instead, they provide short-term relief, which can allow you to better engage in therapy or other forms of treatment.

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Types of antidepressants

Some depression medication used to treat depression include:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin. This increases levels of serotonin in the brain.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can have an impact on lots of different bodily functions and systems. These include sleep, digestion and memory. Serotonin is also widely known as being one of the brain’s ‘happy chemicals’, because it appears to be able to influence mood and how we process emotions.

Research shows that high levels of serotonin in the brain are linked to elevated mood and feeling happy. On the other hand, low levels of serotonin are linked to the symptoms of depression, including feeling sad, upset and generally low in mood.

Therefore, SSRIs can improve a person’s mood by increasing the levels of serotonin in their brain.

Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs work in a similar way to SSRIs, by blocking the reuptake of neurotransmitters that are linked to mood. In the case of SNRIs, the focus is on the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin. Increasing the levels of these chemicals in the brain can improve mood and reduce depression symptoms.

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)

TCAs are an older type of antidepressant that also help to increase levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. They are not usually prescribed as a first line of treatment for depression because they can cause some unpleasant side effects. They are also more dangerous in the event of an overdose.

However, they might be prescribed to someone who has not responded to other antidepressants. They may also be recommended for other conditions, such as OCD and bipolar disorder.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

MAOIs work by blocking the enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters in the brain. This helps to increase the levels of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which can improve mood. However, people who take MAOIs have to have a strict diet because this medication can be dangerous when interacting with certain foods. Therefore, they only tend to be prescribed to people with treatment-resistant depression.

What is the most commonly prescribed antidepressant?

SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed antidepressant. They are usually the preferred choice over other antidepressants because they cause less side effects.

Examples of SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft) and citalopram (Celexa). Sertraline is the most common depression medication used in the UK. It can be used to treat depression and anxiety, and is considered to be effective for both.

Possible side effects of antidepressants

Like most medications, antidepressants can cause side effects. Some common side effects of depression medication include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach aches
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Sexual problems

However, not everyone who takes medication for depression will experience side effects. Even if you do, they will often improve over time as your body gets used to the medication. If you find that you are experiencing unpleasant or significant side effects, it’s important that you speak to your GP. They will be able to review your medication to see whether a different dose or another antidepressant would be better for you.

Other treatment methods for depression

Antidepressants can be an important part of depression treatment, but they’re just one tool in a wider treatment plan. Antidepressants aren’t a cure for depression.

That’s why it’s important that SSRIs are used alongside other treatment approaches, such as therapy, lifestyle changes and self-care techniques.

Therapy aims to help you address the underlying issues that are contributing towards your depression. By talking to a mental health professional, you will be able to learn coping strategies, develop healthy thought patterns and gain an insight into your emotions and behaviours. This can help you to manage your symptoms and improve your wellbeing. The talking therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), is a common therapeutic technique used to treat depression.

Lifestyle changes can also play an important role in treating depression. Regular exercise, a healthy diet and getting enough sleep can all contribute to a healthier mind and body, helping you to cope better with depression. Also, self-care techniques, such as mindfulness and breathing exercises, can also help you manage stress and improve your mood.

At Priory, our depression treatment experts will work with you to create a comprehensive treatment plan, helping you to get back on track.


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Finding Depression Treatment Near You

You don’t have to struggle with depression; expert, established treatment is available. To find out how Priory can help you to overcome your depression and return to a positive way of life, call our dedicated team today on 0330 056 6020 or make an enquiry.

Additionally, at Priory, we don’t just treat adults with depression - we are also able to provide expert depression treatment as part of our private CAMHS, a service for patients who are under the age of 18 years. 

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