When you’re depressed, seemingly small tasks or activities like brushing your teeth, cooking your favorite carbonara or grabbing after-work drinks can feel like an enormous hurdle. And mustering the strength — and vulnerability — to ask for help in your darkest moments can feel nearly impossible.
Whether you’ve been marinating in a two-week funk or have been struggling with severe depression for years, you are not alone. Worldwide, nearly 300 million adults suffer from this mental health disorder.
Fortunately, there are coping strategies and treatment plans that can help make living with this disease feel less debilitating. Along with mental health resources like talk therapy, antidepressant medication is one of the most effective treatments healthcare providers recommend.
But how do you get it? What kind of antidepressant is right for you? And how do these prescription drugs work? We’ll unpack these questions and more below.
While not as quick as adding a pair of shoes to your online shopping cart, getting prescribed antidepressants isn’t as difficult as you might think. But to get these meds, you do need to have a prescription from a healthcare provider.
There are a few ways to go about this:
Talk to your primary care provider. Based on your symptoms (and any other coexisting medical conditions you might have), a primary care provider (PCP) can direct you to the right kind of medication. In addition to medication, your PCP may also recommend other forms of treatment, like group therapy or psychotherapy.
Get a referral from a therapist or psychiatrist. A therapist cannot prescribe depression medication, but a psychiatrist or a psychiatric nurse can. Making an appointment with a therapist is a good starting point because they can provide coping strategies based on your symptoms of depression in addition to connecting you with a psychiatrist.
Utilize online telehealth platforms. If you don’t feel like making the trip to the doctor’s office (understandable!), you can also get antidepressants online, along with support through telehealth primary care platforms like Hers.
Lastly, over-the-counter alternatives might offer benefits when taken with prescription antidepressants.
A handful of the most popular ones include:
While some research speaks to the effectiveness of the above supplements, it’s important to point out that there’s still uncertainty regarding factors like taking the correct doses and how those doses interact with other medications.
Some experts are against using OTC supplements because active ingredients vary by brand and individual batches, delivering unpredictable results.
If you decide to dip your feet into the over-the-counter antidepressant alternative pond, it’s worth saying this: OTC antidepressants aren’t technically antidepressants, and they’re not a replacement for seeking professional help.
When in doubt, always talk to a healthcare provider.
It’s totally normal to get down in the dumps, especially when you’re going through a rough patch, like a breakup or a job loss. But when those feelings become more intense and prolonged, you might start to wonder if you need antidepressants.
For many, the first step in talking about mental health struggles begins with a primary care provider. While you might associate your PCP as that person who gives you your annual physical or writes a prescription when you get a gnarly sinus infection, they can actually be a great first stop on the train toward treatment.
Weight gain or weight loss
Trouble making decisions
Feelings of worthlessness
Suicidal thoughts or frequent thoughts about death
Decreased energy, fatigue or feeling “slowed down”
Depression enters some people’s lives in waves depending on life circumstances. For others, the mental health condition might feel like a more permanent fixture — like a bad roommate who just won’t move out.
Your healthcare provider will likely want to know how long you’ve been experiencing these symptoms, their severity and how your symptoms are presented before making an official diagnosis.
Feeling stuck on how to start the convo with your healthcare provider? Our guide on how to ask your doctor for antidepressants has some pointers to help you feel more confident in talking about your symptoms.
When people talk about antidepressants, it may seem like they’re referring to one kind of pill that magically works for everyone. While that would definitely make things more convenient, it’s simply not the case.
The reality is, there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment. There are multiple types of antidepressants, and some may work better than others for treating certain psychiatric issues or conditions.
Some people may need antidepressants for a relatively short period (like while grieving the loss of a loved one), or they might need medication for the rest of their lives. Antidepressants are entirely dependent upon each person.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
Let’s get to know each one better.
The most commonly prescribed SSRIs include:
SSRIs (short for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) boost your serotonin levels. Many healthcare professionals consider them a first line of treatment for major depressive disorder as well as anxiety disorders.
The most commonly prescribed SNRIs are:
Venlafaxine (Effexor XR®)
SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are also responsible for increasing serotonin levels. They double up by targeting another neurotransmitter called norepinephrine.
Norepinephrine is like the PTA mom who has her hands full: She helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle, stimulates your cardiovascular system and is involved in your body’s fight-or-flight response, among other tasks.
Low levels of norepinephrine are linked to symptoms like lethargy and poor concentration. By targeting both serotonin and norepinephrine, SNRI medication can be effective in treating anxiety and depression.
Tricyclic antidepressants (or TCAs) are a type of antidepressant developed in the 20th century. They’re among some of the first prescription medications to be approved by the FDA.
Lots of people still use TCAs, though they’ve largely been replaced with other medications, like SSRIs and SNRIs. However, if you’re experiencing depression and those aforementioned meds aren’t cutting it, your healthcare provider might recommend TCAs as an alternative.
For more details on how these drugs work and what side effects to expect, check out our tricyclic antidepressants guide.
Forfivo® XL (for major depressive disorder)
Bupropion belongs to a group of medications known as aminoketones. It impacts the way your body uses neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine to help regulate your moods. People with depression may have lower dopamine and norepinephrine levels, and bupropion works by increasing them.
You might be surprised to learn that bupropion is also commonly used as a smoking cessation medication (sold under the brand name Zyban®). Research shows it can help reduce tobacco cravings and withdrawal symptoms in ex-smokers. So if you hear someone say they’re taking Wellbutrin® to kick their smoking habit, this is what they’re referring to.
Unlike other antidepressants, bupropion is known to cause fewer and less severe adverse symptoms, like drowsiness, weight loss, weight gain and sexual dysfunction.
It’s worth noting that many of these common antidepressants don’t work instantly, and it may take some time for your body to adjust. Our full antidepressants list goes over additional medication options, as well as more in-depth information on how they work.
Everyone’s mental health journey looks different. Your personal road to recovery may include antidepressants, and that’s perfectly normal.
But if you start to feel overwhelmed, remember:
A healthcare provider can help. In order to get antidepressants, you first need a prescription. A healthcare professional can ask you about your symptoms to determine which antidepressant is right for you.
There are many types of antidepressants. There’s no one-size-fits-all option when it comes to medication. What works for someone else may not work for you, and vice versa.
You have other support. Support can look like leaning on loved ones, connecting with friends or spending time with a pet. It can also look like mental health services or resources, be it online therapy or anonymous support groups. The important thing is finding a system that works for you.
Seeking help for your depression can be scary, but your mental health is worth fighting for. Get started today.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
Start your mental wellness journey today.