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.”
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.”
What Side Effects Do Antidepressant Medicines Cause?
Like all medications, antidepressants can have side effects. Some of the most common include:
Some antidepressants are more likely than others to cause certain side effects. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) generally have fewer side effects than older types of medications such as tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
Because medications affect every person differently, however, it’s difficult to know what side effects you may experience until you take one. If you’re concerned about any particular side effect, such as weight gain or nausea, tell your doctor. They may be able to prescribe a medication that is less likely to cause that side effect.
How Long Do the Side Effects of Depression Medicine Last?
Many side effects last only for a few days or weeks and then get better. Others may continue until you stop taking the medicine. If the side effects are severe or are a problem for you, talk with your doctor. They may be able to find a way to help reduce them -- by having you take the medicine at a different time of day, for example -- or switch you a different medication.
It’s important not to stop taking a medication without talking with your doctor. If you stop it suddenly, you may feel sick or have headaches or dizziness. Your doctor can help you decrease your dose over time to stop your medication safely.
How Long Will I Need to Take Antidepressant Medication?
This depends on your depression. Most people need to take depression medication for at least six to nine months, but you may need to take it longer, even if you feel better. Some people take antidepressants for several years. Your doctor can help you decide when it’s the right time to stop and can work with you to stop gradually.