Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/7/2021
If you are dealing with depression, you should know you are not alone — far from it, in fact. The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that more than 19 million adults in the U.S. experienced at least one major depressive episode during the previous year.
In addition to behavioral therapy, one way to approach treatment for depression is through medication.
A mental health professional can best help you figure out if you are depressed and will be able to guide you on treatment options — including possible medications.
Until then, you may be curious about some of the best medications for depression — including moderate depression, major depression or clinical depression.
Keep reading to learn about some of them. But, first, let us arm you with a bit more info about depression.
A depressive disorder can be caused by a variety of factors. It’s often connected to low levels of certain neurotransmitters in your brain (like serotonin).
Neuro-what? Neurotransmitters relay information between your neurons.
There are more than 100 different neurotransmitters, and a number of them are essential to how your brain and body function.
There are a few different neurotransmitters that may be related to depression and its symptoms, including:
Serotonin, which regulates things like your mood, hunger and sleep. Plus, it helps inhibit pain. There is research suggesting that some with depression have low levels of serotonin transmission in the brain.
Norepinephrine, which boosts your blood pressure and constricts blood vessels. But it may have an effect on mood, too — like influencing your level of motivation. It is thought that norepinephrine has a hand in depression.
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter you may have heard about. It has been connected to your perception of reality and also is involved in helping you feel motivated. Dopamine also plays a leading role in your brain’s reward system.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which prevents certain types brain activity.Research points to people with depression possibly having lower levels of GABA.
Antidepressant medication works by increasing levels of some neurotransmitters to help with symptoms of depression.
Wondering what the symptoms of depression look like? Common side effects include:
Constant feelings of sadness, anxiety or hopelessness
Feeling irritable, helpless or worthless
Low energy or tiredness
Changes in weight
Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
If you notice that you have some of the symptoms listed above, you should seek help from a mental health professional.
Whether you are dealing with mild or severe depression, a healthcare professional will be able to help identify the best course of treatment for you.
Therapy and medication are both commonly used to treat depression — often in conjunction with one another,
One thing to know about antidepressants: It can take four to eight weeks before you’ll see any improvement in your symptoms.
There are many different types of medications that can treat depression. The four main types are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors.
A prescription drug called bupropion (also sold as the brand name Wellbutrin®) is often prescribed for depression, and often also used to treat seasonal affective disorder and depressive episodes associated with bipolar disorder.
Bupropion is considered an atypical antidepressant — which just means it doesn’t fall under the four main classes of antidepressants.
In addition to bupropion, the other most common types of antidepressants prescribed for depression are SSRIs and SNRIs.
This is partially because they do not have as many drug interactions or side effects as older antidepressants.
SSRIs increase serotonin levels in your brain by preventing your brain cells from reabsorbing existing serotonin.
Here are some common SSRIs prescribed for varying degrees of depression—including severe depression:
Citalopram. Also sold as the brand name Celexa®, this commonly prescribed oral antidepressant comes in tablet or liquid form. It’s also sometimes used to treat eating disorders, alcoholism and panic disorder.
Fluoxetine. This popular medication (which is also sold under the brand name Prozac®) can be used to treat depression along with conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder and bulimia nervosa.
Serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are another type of antidepressant.
They are similar to SSRIs in that they prevent the reabsorption of serotonin, but they also block the reabsorption of norepinephrine (another neurotransmitter), as well.
Low levels of norepinephrine have been linked to symptoms of depression — like difficulty concentrating and feeling sluggish.
SNRIs that may be prescribed for depression include:
Desvenlafaxine, which is sold under the brand name Pristiq®. This SNRI is not only used in the treatment of depression, it is also prescribed off-label to treat certain symptoms such as hot flashes in menopausal women.
There’s no magic equation when it comes to identifying the best antidepressant for you.
You’ll need to work with an online psychiatrist to diagnose your type of depression and then determine if medication will be the best course of treatment.
From there, your healthcare provider will take into consideration your depression symptoms, other medical issues you may have and any other prescription drugs you are taking (as well as non-prescription meds). They may then prescribe you medication.
You should feel free to ask any questions you may have — like about common side effects, if there is potential risk involved, alternative treatments for depression, and more.
Research has shown that the different antidepressants work as well as one another. However, people react differently to the various medications.
For this reason, you may have to try a few different medications before landing on one that works best for you.
As previously mentioned, you should give the medication you're taking at least a month to see if it works.
If it doesn’t, it’s important not to stop taking your medication suddenly, as that can cause withdrawal symptoms.
Instead, speak to your healthcare provider to discuss the best approach for coming off one medication and trying another.
You should also call your healthcare provider immediately if you notice any bothersome side effects from taking prescription antidepressants.
There are a number of different medications used to treat depression. Two of the more common types are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). This is partially because they tend to have mild potential side effects.
It takes an average of four to six weeks for antidepressants to start working, so you will need to be patient to see if a specific medication works for you.
It’s also important to remember that you may need to try a few different options before settling on one that helps your depression.
Untreated depression is no way to live. To figure out the best medication to treat your depression, you’ll need to work closely with a mental healthcare professional.