Medication treatment

Key Points:

  • The medicines used for depression are called antidepressants.
  • It often takes 2 – 4 weeks on the right dose to see improvement in symptoms of depression.  So it is important to continue with treatment, even if you do not notice much change at first.
  • About 6 out of 10 people notice that they feel a lot less depressed on the first medicine they try.

Medication treatments for depression

  • Medication has been used for treatment of depression for many years and is generally safe and effective.
  • This treatment works best when you work closely with your doctor on this treatment and other approaches such as lifestyle changes and counseling.  Medication treatment may not be helpful in the long run unless you also deal with other factors that put you at risk for depression.
  • The medicine is usually taken at least once a day.  It is important to not miss any doses.
  • Most people are treated by their family doctor.
  • After assessing the problem and your general health, your doctor will start you on a low dose.
  • The dose may be gradually increased over a period of several weeks, while you and your doctor watch for signs that the medicine is helping. The goal is to return to the way you were feeling before the depression started and to have the most improvement with the fewest side effects.
  • The dose needed to treat depression differs among people. There is no advantage to staying at a low dose if your depression does not improve. If you do not improve on a lower dose, many people improve when their doctor prescribes a higher dose or a different medicine.
  • About 6 out of 10 people notice that they feel less depressed when they get to the right dose on the first medicine they try.
  • If you do not improve, the solution may be a different medicine or adding a second medicine to make the first medicine work better.
  • If it is hard to find a medicine that helps, your family doctor may suggest other treatment options or refer you to psychiatrist.  The psychiatrist will review your situation and give advice about other medicines and other treatment options.
  • It is important to stick with it until you find a treatment that helps.
  • Medications should not be taken with alcohol, marijuana, or street drugs.

 References:

Gartlehner G, Hansen RA, Morgan LC, Thaler K, Lux LJ, Van Noord M, Mager U, Gaynes BN, Thieda P, Strobelberger M, Lloyd S, Reichenpfader U, Lohr KN. Second-Generation Antidepressants in the Pharmacologic Treatment of Adult Depression: An Update of the 2007 Comparative Effectiveness Review.  AHRQ Publication

No. 12-EHC012-EF. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. December 2011. www.effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/reports/final.cfm.

Lam, R.W., Kennedy, S.H., Grigoriadis, S., McIntyre, R.S., Milev, R., Ramasubbu, R., Parikh, S.V., Patten, S.B., & Ravindran, A.V.  (2009). Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments (CANMAT) clinical guidelines for the management of major depressive disorder in adults. III. Pharmacotherapy.  Journal of Affective Disorders, 117 (Suppl 1),S26-S43. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2009.06.041.

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). (2009). Depression: The treatment and management of depression in adults – National clinical practice guideline. London: Author.

Read More

Please See:

What happens when the medicine is gradually reduced and eventually stopped?

How long should you keep taking the medicine?

How long does it take for the medicine to work?

Side effects

Table of early side effects of common medicines for depression

Cost of medication

Combining medication and therapy

Download: Fact Sheet: Medication treatment for depression on our Fact Sheets web page.