Antidepressants are specially formulated prescription drugs that are used to treat depression in both adults and children. Certain antidepressants may also help control obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and even anxiety.
Depression is a mental illness wherein the patient is in a “low” mood, often losing interest in eating, pleasurable activities or being in contact with friends or family. Depression, a “mood disorder”, exists on a scale from mild depression to major depression, often co-occurring with other disorders such as substance abuse. Depression is not to be confused with the mood that results when we are sad or upset by a situation that would cause such feelings in most people. Although the environment can play a role in the development of depression, it is one mental illness that has a significant genetic component.
Depression is treatable, responding to both medication and counseling, preferably in combination. There are five main types of antidepressants — selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants and bupropion (Wellbutrin). Some patients who are reluctant to take prescription drugs may find some relief by taking the nutritional supplement St. John’s Wort, which is an herb widely believed to be a natural antidepressant.
Science has shown that serotonin plays a major role in regulating mood. When the body releases serotonin in the brain, we become happier. Patients with depression have been shown to release much smaller levels of serotonin than people without depression. SSRI antidepressants work to increase serotonin levels in the brain by blocking the brain’s ability to absorb serotonin back into neurons; this leaves more serotonin available for immediate use.
Although SSRIs have been shown to be very effective at treating depression, they are not fast-acting medications and can often cause frustration among patients who desperately need to find relief. It can take up to a month of constant administration in order for SSRI antidepressants to begin working. The most popular SSRI antidepressants on the market today are sold under the brand names Celexa, Zoloft, Lexapro, Prozac and Paxil.
Every once in a while a prescription drug comes on the market that revolutionizes the way doctors treat sick people. Bupropion, brand name “Wellbutrin”, is one of those medicines. This antidepressant increases the level of both norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. Some doctors prescribe Wellbutrin as a corollary to
the more traditional SSRIs. The drug is also helpful in helping people stop smoking and, unlike other antidepressants, does not cause patients to gain weight or decrease sex drive. In fact, it can actually increase sex drive and help people lose weight.
MAOIs are another type of antidepressant that are now used only in intractable cases, given their tendency to react negatively with other drugs, and even foodstuffs. On a foundational level, MAOIs increase the number of available monoamine neurotransmitters by blocking monoamine oxidase, a substance that would normally break down the transmitters. The result is an increase in brain serotonin (MAO-A’s), phenethylamine (MAO-B’s), and dopamine.