The issue of Depression/Depressive Symptoms is debated often, the treatment for such disorders with medication is also hotly debated. This article gives a very general insight into the subject of Antidepressants. It seems to be acknowledged that Medication should also include a talking therapy in order to be more effective.
The Drugs industry drives a lot of research and so it could be considered biased. All medications should be approved by a Clinical Professional and Monitored often, medication is not a long term solution IMO and therefore a lot of consideration should be given when deciding to go this route.
What You Need to know About Depression Medication
If you’re suffering from major depression, antidepressant medication, used under the guidance of a mental health professional, may relieve some of your symptoms. But antidepressants aren’t a silver bullet for depression. Medication doesn’t cure the underlying problem and is rarely a long-term solution. Not only do antidepressants come with significant side effects and dangers, but recent studies have also raised questions about their effectiveness.
Learning the facts about antidepressants and weighing the benefits against the risks can help you make an informed and personal decision about whether medication is right for you.
Is depression caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain?
This information is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice. If you are taking an antidepressant, do not change your dosage without consulting your physician!
You’ve seen it in television ads, read it in newspaper articles, maybe even heard it from your doctor: depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that medication can correct. According to the chemical imbalance theory, low levels of the brain chemical serotonin lead to depression and depression medication works by bringing serotonin levels back to normal. However, the truth is that researchers know very little about how antidepressants work. There is no test that can measure the amount of serotonin in the living brain—no way to even know what a low or normal level of serotonin is, let alone show that depression medication fixes these levels.
While antidepressant drugs such as Prozac increase serotonin levels in the brain, this doesn’t mean that depression is caused by a serotonin shortage. After all, aspirin may cure a headache, but it doesn’t mean that headaches are caused by an aspirin deficiency. Furthermore, many studies contradict the chemical imbalance theory of depression. Experiments have shown that lowering people’s serotonin levels doesn’t always lower mood, nor does it worsen symptoms in people who are already depressed. And while antidepressants raise serotonin levels within hours, it takes weeks before medication is able to relieve depression. If low serotonin caused depression, there wouldn’t be this antidepressant medication lag.
When it comes to depression, serotonin doesn’t tell the whole story
Experts agree that depression involves much more than just “bad” brain chemistry. Serotonin is just one of many factors that may play a role in the disorder. New research points to other biological contributors to depression, including inflammation, elevated stress hormones, immune system suppression, abnormal activity in certain parts of the brain, nutritional deficiencies, and shrinking brain cells. And these are just the biological causes of depression. Social and psychological factors—such as loneliness, lack of exercise, poor diet, and low self-esteem—also play an enormous role in depression.
How effective are antidepressants?
Researchers agree that when depression is severe, medication can be helpful—even life–saving. However, research shows that antidepressants fall short for many people. A major government study released in 2006 showed that fewer than 50 percent of people become symptom-free on antidepressants, even after trying two different medications. Furthermore, many who do respond to medication slip back into major depression within a short while, despite sticking with drug treatment.
Other studies show that the benefits of depression medication have been exaggerated, with some researchers concluding that, when it comes to mild to moderate depression, antidepressants are only slightly more effective than placebos.
If you have severe depression that’s interfering with your ability to function, medication may be right for you. However, many people use antidepressants when therapy, exercise, or self-help strategies would work just as well or better—minus the side effects. Therapy can also help you get to the bottom of your underlying issues and develop the tools to beat depression for good.
Side effects of antidepressant medication
There are many different types of drugs used in the treatment of depression, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), atypical antidepressants, tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Side effects are common in all antidepressants. For many people, the side effects are serious enough to make them stop taking the medication.
Side effects of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)
The most widely prescribed antidepressants come from a class of medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Common side effects of SSRI antidepressants:
Decreased sex drive
Weight gain or loss
The SSRIs include:
The SSRIs act on a chemical in the brain called serotonin. Serotonin helps regulate mood, but it also plays a role in digestion, pain, sleep, mental clarity, and other bodily functions. As a result, the SSRI antidepressants cause a wide range of side effects.
Common side effects include sexual problems, drowsiness, sleep difficulties, and nausea. While some side effects go away after the first few weeks of drug treatment, others persist and may even get worse.
In adults over the age of 65, SSRIs pose an additional concern. Studies show that SSRI medications may increase the risk for falls, fractures, and bone loss in older adults. The SSRIs can also cause serious withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking them abruptly.
Other antidepressant drug risk factors
Anyone who takes antidepressants can experience unpleasant or dangerous side effects. But certain individuals are at a higher risk:
People over 65. Studies show that SSRI medications may increase the risk for falls, fractures, and bone loss in older adults.
Pregnant women. The use of SSRI's late in pregnancy may lead to short-term withdrawal symptoms in newborns after delivery. Typical symptoms include tremor, restlessness, mild respiratory problems, and weak cry.
Teens and adolescents. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that all depression medications include a warning label about the increased risk of suicide in children and young adults.
Antidepressants and suicide risk
There is a danger that, in some people, antidepressant treatment will cause an increase, rather than a decrease, in depression and with it, an increased risk of suicide. While this is particularly true of children and young adults on antidepressant medication, anyone taking antidepressants should be closely watched for suicidal thoughts and behaviors. The suicide risk is particularly great during the first month to two months of antidepressant treatment.
Monitoring is especially important if this is the person’s first time on depression medication or if the dose has recently been changed. Signs that medication is making things worse include anxiety, insomnia, hostility, and extreme agitation—particularly if the symptoms appear suddenly or rapidly deteriorate. If you spot the warning signs in yourself or a loved one, contact your doctor or therapist immediately.
Antidepressant warning signs
Suicidal thoughts or attempts
New or worse depression
New or worse anxiety
New or worse irritability
Feeling agitated or restless
Aggression and anger
Acting on dangerous impulses
Other unusual changes in behavior
If you are concerned that a friend or family member is contemplating suicide, see Understanding and Helping a Suicidal Person.
Side effects of atypical antidepressants
There are a variety of newer depression drugs, called atypical antidepressants, which target other neurotransmitters either alone or in addition to serotonin. Some of the brain chemicals they affect include norepinephrine and dopamine.
The side effects vary according to the specific drug. However, many of the atypical antidepressants can cause nausea, fatigue, weight gain, sleepiness, nervousness, dry mouth, and blurred vision.
The atypical antidepressants include:
Side effects of older depression drugs
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are older classes of antidepressants. Their side effects are more severe than those of the newer antidepressants, so they are only prescribed as a last resort after other treatments and medications have failed.
Once you’ve started taking antidepressants, stopping can be tough; many people have withdrawal symptoms that make it difficult to get off of the medication.
If you decide to stop taking antidepressants, it’s essential to consult a doctor and taper off slowly. If you stop abruptly, you may experience a number of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as crying spells, extreme restlessness, dizziness, fatigue, and aches and pains. These withdrawal symptoms are known as “antidepressant discontinuation syndrome." Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome is especially common when you stop taking Paxil or Zoloft. However, all medications for depression can cause withdrawal symptoms.
Antidepressant withdrawal symptoms
Depression, mood swings
Irritability and aggression
Nausea and vomiting
Dizziness, loss of coordination
Stomach cramping and pain
Electric shock sensations
Tremor, muscle spasms
Depression and anxiety are also common symptoms when withdrawing from antidepressants. When depression is a withdrawal symptom, it’s often worse than the original depression that led to drug treatment in the first place. Unfortunately, many people mistake this withdrawal symptom for a return of their depressive illness and resume medication, creating a vicious circle.
In order to avoid antidepressant withdrawal symptoms, never stop your medication “cold turkey.” Instead, gradually taper your dose, allowing for at least 1-2 weeks between each dosage reduction. This tapering process may take up to several months, and should only be attempted under a doctor's supervision.
Exploring your depression treatment options
Antidepressants aren’t a cure. Medication may treat some symptoms of depression, but can’t change underlying contributions to depression in your life. Antidepressants won’t solve your problems if you’re depressed because of a dead-end job, a pessimistic outlook, or an unhealthy relationship. That’s where therapy and other lifestyle changes come in.
Studies show that therapy works just as well as antidepressants in treating depression, and it’s better at preventing relapse once treatment ends. While depression medication only helps as long as you’re taking it, the emotional insights and coping skills acquired during therapy can have a more lasting effect on depression. However, if your depression is so severe that you don't have the energy to pursue treatment, a brief trial of antidepressants may boost your mood to a level where you can focus on therapy.
In addition to therapy, other effective treatments for depression include exercise, meditation, relaxation techniques, stress management, support groups, and self-help steps. While these treatments require more time and effort initially, their advantage over depression medication is that they boost mood without any adverse effects
Self-help for depression
Depression recovery begins with positive daily lifestyle choices. If you cultivate supportive relationships, challenge negative thoughts, and nurture your physical health, you can help yourself, slowly but surely, overcome your depression.
Read Self-help for depression
Other depression treatment options
It sometimes takes time to find the depression treatment that’s right for you. Don’t be fooled into thinking that antidepressants are the best choice, just because they're sometimes the easiest choice. Alternate treatment options include:
Psychotherapy. Therapy has proven to be extremely effective in the long-term treatment of depression. It can also provide you with the tools to help prevent depression from coming back. There are many types of therapy available. For help finding the right therapist see: Psychotherapy and Counseling
Acupuncture. Acupuncture, the technique of using fine needles on specific points on the body, is increasingly being investigated as a treatment for depression, with some research studies showing promising results. If you decide to try acupuncture, make sure that you find a licensed qualified professional.
Light therapy. Not all people with depression have a seasonal worsening of mood, but those who do may benefit from light therapy. Exposure to bright light from a light therapy box causes biochemical changes in the brain that can help control symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and certain kinds of depression. As with any treatment, always consult a mental health professional before using.
Deciding if depression medication is right for you
Self-prescribing antidepressant medication is extremely dangerous. It can even be fatal. At the very least you should consult a primary care doctor. Unfortunately, studies have shown that many primary care physicians lack the specialist training necessary to provide the highest quality mental health care. Therefore, the best case scenario is to confer with a psychiatrist or other mental health professional before taking antidepressants.
Source: American Psychosomatic Society
If you’re considering antidepressants as a treatment option, make sure you carefully consider all of your treatment options. The following questions may help you make your decision.
Questions to ask yourself and a mental health professional
Is my depression severe enough to justify drug treatment?
Is medication the best option for treating my depression?
Am I willing to tolerate unwanted side effects?
What non-drug treatments might help my depression?
Do I have the time and motivation to pursue other treatments such as therapy and exercise?
What self-help strategies might reduce my depression?
If I decide to take medication, should I pursue therapy as well?
Questions to ask your doctor
How much mental health care training have you had?
Are there any medical conditions that could be causing my depression?
What are the side effects and risks of the antidepressant you are recommending?
Are there any foods or other substances I will need to avoid?
How will this drug interact with other prescriptions I’m taking?
How long will I have to take this medication?
Will withdrawing from the drug be difficult?
Will my depression return when I stop taking medication?
Guidelines for taking antidepressants
If you decide to take depression medication, it’s prudent to learn all you can about your prescription. The more you know about your antidepressant, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with side effects, avoid dangerous drug interactions, and minimize other safety concerns.
See a psychiatrist, not a family physician. Your family physician might help you or your loved one first realize that you may need depression treatment. But although any medical doctor can prescribe medications, psychiatrists are doctors who specialize in mental health treatment. They are more likely to be familiar with the newest research on antidepressants and any safety concerns. Your health depends on your doctor's expertise, so it's important to choose the physician who is best qualified.
Be patient. Finding the right drug and dosage is a trial and error process. It takes approximately 4 to 6 weeks for antidepressant medications to reach their full therapeutic effect. Many people try several medications before finding one that helps.
Monitor side effects – Keep track of any physical and emotional changes you’re experiencing and talk to your doctor about them. Contact your doctor or therapist immediately if your depression gets worse or you experience an increase in suicidal thoughts.
Don’t stop medication without talking to your doctor – Be sure to take your antidepressant according to the doctor's instructions. Don't skip or alter your dose, and don't stop taking your pills as soon as you begin to feel better. Stopping treatment prematurely is associated with high relapse rates. It can also cause serious withdrawal symptoms.
Go to therapy – Medication can reduce the symptoms of depression, but it doesn’t treat the underlying problem. Psychotherapy can help you get to the root of your depression, change negative thinking patterns, and learn new ways of coping.