Today, physicians can choose from a wide range of antidepressant medications. These include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclics, tetracyclics, dopamine reuptake inhibitors, serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, and monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Depression Medications

There are several advantages to treating depression with antidepressant medications:

  • They are effective against mild, moderate, and severe forms of major depression.
  • People usually respond more quickly to medications than to psychotherapy.
  • They are easy to administer.
  • They are not addictive and, when properly used, are usually quite safe.
  • They can be used in combination with psychotherapy.

The disadvantages are:

  • Medication therapy can cause unwanted side effects.
  • It requires strict adherence to a medication schedule and repeated visits to your doctor to monitor response.
  • It may take some time —and some tinkering —to find the right medication at the right dose.

Because of these factors, many people do not have an adequate trial of a therapeutic dose for a sufficient period of time. Older individuals and those with chronic illnesses are more susceptible to the adverse effects of antidepressants.

How Antidepressants Work

Researchers believe that antidepressants work by affecting levels of neurotransmitters—chemical messengers in the brain that facilitate communication between nerve cells. However, physicians cannot predetermine which medication will be the most effective in any particular individual. Drug selection relies largely on a process of educated guesses, although most people do have some positive response to the first antidepressant they try.

Publication Review By: Karen L. Swartz, M.D.

Published: 04 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2013