Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/1/2022
Treatment for depression is accessible, reliable and proven to help you, but we'll admit there are some barriers to getting your hands on the right medications.
Severe depression and other forms of depressive disorder can make it hard to accomplish much of anything, but when you're unmotivated as a result of depression symptoms, the idea of having to search for help can seem hopelessly daunting.
Part of what stands in the way is a stigma about asking for help. We're here to tell you right now that after decades of proven clinical trials (and with all the statistics about how many people truly suffer from depression), there's no room for stigma against treatment in the modern world.
But the other barrier — the one most people likely face when they're searching for help — is not knowing where to go.
Who you can ask for medication for depression is a limited group of people with medical licenses, but even still, there are more options than you might think.
Antidepressants work on certain neurotransmitters like serotonin to regulate the supply, in turn helping your brain balance moods more evenly.
Antidepressants are non-habit forming medications with a lot of medically proven benefits, but they’re not perfect.
They can take several weeks to begin “working” in a way that you’ll notice, and they should not be abruptly stopped without first talking to your healthcare provider, because the withdrawal side effects can be dangerous.
Generally, antidepressant medication side effects are mild, but they may include things like sleep problems, nausea, headaches and sexual side effects like performance issues.
The most common class of antidepressant on the market is called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI. These types of antidepressants balance your serotonin levels, and they’re known to be safe and effective.
In fact, healthcare professionals typically prescribe these first, and only try other options if SSRIs fail.
Some of the prescription medications that you may hear about are norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, monoamine oxidase inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants. Read more about those in our guide to antidepressants.
So, this medication definitely sounds like something a healthcare professional should be in control of, right? We agree. And thankfully, it’s controlled by prescription.
The good news, however, is that medications for depression and other mood disorders are typically something your primary care physician can prescribe.
They’re able to make treatment recommendations and prescriptions for immediate signs of depression.
That said, a psychiatrist can also prescribe these medications, and may have a more well-practiced approach than a general practitioner.
While your GP may know your medical history better, a psychiatrist may be someone you can talk more candidly with about mental health conditions.
In other words, both can prescribe antidepressants — the best choice is where you feel most comfortable being honest.
And cognitive therapy works — experts agree that depression disorders respond well to therapy in general.
Both a psychiatrist and a general practitioner will be able to give you insight into other lifestyle changes you may want to make to deal with your depression better — things like exercise, dietary changes, and other good habits may help alleviate your symptoms alongside medication.
If you’re working with a therapist or psychologist, they won’t be able to prescribe you medications.
However, if they think medication would help you in your treatment, they can make recommendations and refer you to a psychiatrist to keep that conversation going.
So, you believe you may be suffering from mild depression, moderate depression or some related mental illness, you want antidepressants and you know who to talk to. What else should you know?
Well, a few things.
Healthcare professionals will likely ask you about those lifestyle choices and habits we mentioned.
They may also ask you to address those things — caffeine intake or alcohol consumption, for instance — before offering medication.
Once they’ve ruled out other preemptive solutions, you’ll likely be offered a prescription.
They’ll explain the medication options to you, which will probably include SSRIs, assuming they believe you’re depressed.
They’ll also answer any questions you have about the particular medications they may prescribe — how long they take to show effects, what rare or common side effects to look out, what to do if you experience suicidal thoughts, etc.
The point of antidepressant drugs is to have positive effects on your quality of life. They can achieve that, when taken correctly and under the supervision of a qualified mental health professional.
Mental health treatment, prescription or otherwise, is the result of a healthcare professional’s professional opinion of the best course of treatment for you and your needs.
That recommendation may also come with therapy for treating depression, which can help your meds in a supportive, dynamic duo kind of way.
We realize that this can be a tough decision to make. If you’re still left with unanswered questions about depressive disorders, mental health treatment or other issues related to antidepressants or mood disorders, check out Hers’ mental health resources guide for more information.
Whatever you do, do it in service of your mental health. Taking the next step, however big or small, is the best thing you can do for your mental health.
It’s not just the next step on the way to antidepressants — it’s the next step on the way to a happier, healthier you.