Whether it’s starting a new job, caring for a sick parent or dealing with that stack of mail that won’t stop piling up on your desk, it’s totally normal to feel stressed out from time to time. But when you’re dealing with depression, everyday tasks can feel so overwhelming to the point of being debilitating.
Fortunately, mental health medications like antidepressants can be very effective, which is why they’re often considered a first-line treatment. They work by targeting certain neurotransmitters in your brain to help regulate your mood and how you respond to stress.
Some of the most commonly used antidepressants include:
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
The big question is: How do you get antidepressants, anyway? The short answer is: They must be prescribed by a healthcare provider.
While that may sound intimidating, the process of accessing antidepressants is a lot less complicated than you might think. We’ll walk you through who to speak to, what to say to them and other mental health resources you can tap into for support.
To get antidepressants, you’ll first need a prescription. Primary care providers (PCPs), psychiatric nurse practitioners, and psychiatrists are all qualified to prescribe antidepressant medications.
We’ll dig into the differences below.
A primary care provider is an excellent first step in getting antidepressants. The benefit of using your own PCP is that you have an established relationship with them. They’ll already have your medical history on record, and since you’ve seen them before, it might be easier to approach them with this topic.
Alternatively, you can also consult with a provider via telehealth primary care. The big plus about virtual appointments is that you don’t have to leave your home, and you can avoid the annoyance of having to sit in the waiting room at a doctor’s office.
Whether your appointment is online or in-person, your healthcare provider will likely start the conversation by asking about your symptoms and lifestyle habits, like smoking and drinking.
Your provider might bring up these common symptoms of depression:
Pessimistic, despondent feelings
A sad, anxious or “empty” mood
Fatigue and lower energy levels
Slow speech or movement
Difficulty focusing, making decisions or remembering things
Loss of interest in hobbies or activities you once enjoyed
Physical aches and pains
Irritability and annoyance
Thoughts of death or suicidal thoughts and behaviors
Depression also shares similar symptoms with anxiety — which is why healthcare providers often prescribe antidepressants as treatment for anxiety disorders, like social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
The important thing to remember is that there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment when it comes to depression. Some people have severe depression, and other people have mild to moderate depression. Some will need antidepressants for a short time, while others will need them for years.
Your provider will be able to come up with a treatment plan for you based on your specific symptoms while taking other factors into consideration, such as other medications you’re taking.
If you’re still feeling stuck navigating this conversation, our guide on how to ask your doctor for anxiety medication has more tips.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD) who specializes in treating mental health disorders, like depression, panic disorder, bipolar disorder or anxiety. They have extensive knowledge in their field and can use their deep expertise to create a plan tailored to your needs.
Psychiatrists can provide prescription medications and offer psychotherapy treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to go with it.
If you think you’d benefit from seeing a mental health professional, the Hers online psychiatry platform can connect you with a licensed provider. For more resources, take a look at our guides to finding a psychiatrist and how to choose a psychiatrist.
Whether you see a psychiatrist or a primary care physician, the choice is ultimately up to you. Regardless of who you choose, there’s a strong possibility that in addition to medication, your provider will recommend certain lifestyle adjustments to reduce your symptoms, like exercising or cutting back on substances like alcohol.
Antidepressants are complex medications (some with more troublesome side effects than others), so it’s a good thing that not just anyone can prescribe them.
Though they can offer great mental health services, here are a few people who can’t prescribe antidepressants:
Again, your best bet for getting antidepressants is to connect with your primary care physician or find a psychiatrist.
Deciding on a healthcare provider might seem hard, but it doesn’t have to be. The most important thing is that you speak to someone you feel like you can trust and be transparent with about your symptoms.
Here are a few questions to consider in the search for a provider:
Have you been treated for mental health before?
How severe are your mental health symptoms?
Do you definitely want to take antidepressants, or are you undecided?
How soon do you want to start taking antidepressants?
Ultimately, do what feels right for you, and know that you can always change course if needed.
If you feel like your depression is interfering with your life, don’t wait until it gets worse before seeking help. With guidance from a healthcare professional, be it your PCP or a psychiatrist, you can come up with a treatment plan best suited for your needs.
If you start to feel overwhelmed, remember:
There’s nothing wrong with needing medication. Think of it this way: If you injured your ankle, would you not go to the hospital? When you break a bone, you fix it — not judge yourself for trying to look cool while skiing. When your mental health is struggling, the same mentality applies. There’s no shame in getting the treatment you need.
Opening up helps. Whether it’s reaching out to a loved one, exploring psychotherapy or joining anonymous support groups, opening up about your struggles can make you feel less alone while giving you resources for coping. And if you don’t want to get out of bed, online therapy is an A+ option.
Practice self-care. Taking care of your needs is pivotal for feeling better. Self-care looks different to everyone, so focus on what makes you feel good, whether it’s hitting the gym, journaling or surrounding yourself with friends you can lean on.
If you need additional support, our online mental health services can provide tools and strategies as you take steps toward getting the help you deserve.
Daniel Z. Lieberman, MD is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at George Washington University, where he has received awards for teaching and research.
During his 26-year tenure on the full-time faculty at George Washington University, he taught both medical students and psychiatry residents, and served as the Vice Chair for Clinical Affairs, the Chairman of the Institutional Review Board and the Director of the Clinical Psychiatric Research Center.
Dr. Lieberman is the co-author of the international bestseller The Molecule of More, which has been translated into more than 20 languages, and is also the author of Spellbound: Modern Science, Ancient Magic, and the Hidden Potential of the Unconscious Mind. He has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals and leading psychiatric textbooks.
Dr. Lieberman is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He also has provided insight on psychiatric topics for the US Department of Health and Human Services, the US Department of Commerce and the Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy.
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