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How Your Depression Medicine Can Affect Your Life

By Ellen Greenlaw
WebMD Feature

If you’re being treated for depression, taking an antidepressant may be part of your treatment plan. Antidepressants work by balancing chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters that affect mood and emotions. These depression medicines can help improve your mood, help you sleep better, and increase your appetite and concentration.

“Antidepressants can help jump-start mood and give people the boost they need to get over the symptoms of their depression,” says Eric Endlich, PhD, a clinical psychologist based in Boston. “This often allows them to start doing the things they enjoy again and make better choices for themselves, which also helps contribute to a more positive mood.”

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If you’re taking an antidepressant, it’s important to know what to expect and how it will affect your life. Here are the answers to five common questions about taking antidepressants.

When Will Depression Medication Make Me Feel Better?

While many people find that antidepressants work well to help reduce the symptoms of depression, you might not feel better right away. It usually takes at least three to four weeks before you notice a change in your mood. Sometimes it can take even longer. Taking the medicine every day as directed helps increase the chance that it works.

“You definitely have to be a little patient for the medicine to work,” says Lisa Brennan, who started taking medication for her depression several years ago. “For me, the change was very subtle at first, and then I realized that I really was feeling better. But it takes a few weeks, so it’s important to hang in there.”

What If an Antidepressant Doesn’t Work?

If you don’t notice any change in your mood after a few weeks, talk with your doctor. If the first antidepressant you take doesn’t work, it’s likely that another one will. About 60% of people who take antidepressants feel better with the first medicine they take, but others need to try more than one before noticing a change.

A study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health in 2008 found that about 50% of patients who did not feel better after using one medication noticed an improvement when they took a new one or added a second medication to the first treatment. You and your doctor can work together to find the medication that’s right for you.

“I had to try a couple of different kinds of medications to find the right one for me,” Brennan tells WebMD. “One medication worked for a little while, and then I started to feel depressed again. So my doctor switched me to another medication, and that one is working great. It’s just a matter of sticking with it and letting your doctor know how you’re feeling.”

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