Depression: Signs Your Medication Isn’t Working

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on December 13, 2020

Antidepressants won’t necessarily cure your depression, but they can help you manage its symptoms. Still, finding the right medication can take some trial and error. Not all medications work for all people.

It’s important to know the signs that a medication you’re taking may not be right for you.

You feel better right away: It might sound strange, but this could be a sign your medication isn’t working the way it should. Feeling like you’re instantly better may be a placebo effect -- you think it’s helping. Real help won’t happen that fast. It takes weeks for your medicine to start working.

No relief after 12 weeks: While you won’t notice changes from these medications overnight, you should start to feel some difference in 4 to 6 weeks, with the best results sometimes coming in 8 to 12 weeks. If you don’t feel better by 3 months or your symptoms get worse, let your doctor know.

Big mood swings: Any serious changes in your emotions, positive or negative, can be a sign that you need to change your medication.

Your depression gets worse: This can happen, especially if you’re taking other medications as well. Some can cause your antidepressants to act differently, and that can make your symptoms worse. Make sure your doctor knows about all medications you are taking.

The side effects are too much for you: As with any medication, antidepressants can come with side effects. The most common ones are nausea and diarrhea. They usually get better in a week or so.

Talk to Your Doctor

Sometimes simple changes can make a big difference. Your doctor may suggest you take half a pill instead of a whole one and gradually increase the dose. Another option may be to change the time you take your medication, like at night instead of during the day. But make sure to talk with your doctor before making any changes to how you take your medication.

In some cases, you might need to change medications. Follow your doctor’s instructions on how to do that. You’ll need to give your body time to get rid of the old medication and allow the new one to take effect. It’s a bit like resetting a clock and starting over.

What You Can Do

Lifestyle choices can affect how well an antidepressant works for you. It’s important to get enough rest and avoid recreational drugs and alcohol. With some medications, you need to stay away from citrus juices like orange or grapefruit juice.

A good relationship with your doctor is also key, especially when you’re not feeling well or your medication isn’t working as you expected. And talk therapy works hand-in-hand with the right medication. It can help you understand your illness and manage stress and your emotions.

Show Sources


Michelle B. Riba, MD, associate director University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center, Ann Arbor, MI.
Todd Antin, MD, founder and CEO, PACT Atlanta.
American Psychiatric Association: “Practice Guidelines for the Treatment of Patients With Major Depressive Disorder, Third Edition,” “What Is Depression?”
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: “Psychotherapy: How It Works and How It Can Help.”
Harvard Health Letter: “What you should know about antidepressants.”
Here to Help: “Myths About Antidepressants.”
Mayo Clinic: “Depression (major depressive disorder).”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info