Common Questions on Depression Treatments

Frequently Asked Questions on Depression Treatments

Anti-depressants do not actually cure the condition of depression. However, anti-depressant medication is valuable and effective in that it eliminates the biological symptoms of depression, in turn alleviating the dreadful psychological symptoms, with the result that you will feel very much better. If you can, report all side effects, if any, to your doctor without delay, however, unimportant you think they are. Do not continue with medication which makes you feel no different and from which you are deriving no benefit, consult your doctor.

How long before the depression medications work?
Your individual makeup, the degree of depression, the dosage and whether you are taking other prescribed drugs (which may induce depression) will affect the time it takes for anti-depressants to work. You will probably notice some beneficial effects within one to two weeks, but it may take a month for them to become fully effective. As a rule, if an anti-depressant has shown no benefit within six weeks, your doctor may suggest another drug. It is important to take anti-depressant drugs regularly, as they need to build up in the body.

How long do I need to take the depression medication?
The intensity of your depression, your medical history and current circumstances and whether this is the first episode of the illness will all have a bearing on the length of treatment. About 30 percent, some say 50 percent, of people experience a recurrence if they stop their medication after six months. This figure drops to only two percent if the medication is continued for one year. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that treatment for depression should continue for at least six months after the symptoms have improved or disappeared.

What are the possible side effects of depression medication?
After reading the information accompanying the medication, you may be tempted not to take it. But we all have to make choices and you must look at the risk-benefit ration. Essentially, are the benefits worth the risks? The benefits of feeling better often outweigh the possible side effects of anti-depressants. If you feel apathetic, can’t sleep, are irritable with your children and partner, despairing and occasionally suicidal, you may well conclude that some initial nausea or excessive sweating, for example, is a good swap for the absolute misery of the previous weeks or months.

The possible side effects of anti-depressants depend on the type of drug, the specific drug and your individual response. Some drugs, notably the TCAs and MAOIs, will probably produce the same common side effects in most people, plus some rarer ones in some people but not others. Some people experience side effects with SSRIs, while others do not. Of those who do, some can tolerate them, while others either cannot or choose not to and ask for an alternative drug.

You should report all side effects, whether or not you consider them important and whether or not you can tolerate them, to your doctor. This is important for your health and for feedback to the pharmaceutical industry.

Possible Side Effects

MAOIs – Dizziness, fainting, headaches,
insomnia, lowered blood pressure – some react with certain foods.

SSRIs – Agitation, anxiety, insomnia, lowered
or absent sex drive, nausea.

TCAs – Confusion constipation, difficulty
passing water, drowsiness, feeling faint, rapid heartbeat.

Is it safe to drive?
It is normally safe to drive a car, but if you feel drowsy, confused, agitated or unusually anxious, don’t drive until these side effects wear off. You will be the first to notice if your reactions are slower or more nervous than normal. If in doubt about driving, don’t. Sleeping tablets and tranquilizers slow the reactions, so take extra care when driving if you have taken either of these types of medication in the last few days.

Is it all right to drink alcohol?
Some drugs interact with alcohol. Check with your doctor, but it would be wise to cut down on alcohol so that you can observe any side effects. Also, alcohol acts initially like a stimulant and then as a depressant so it is best avoided when you are depressed. Do not drink alcohol if you are taking sleeping tablets or anxiolotics.

Why must I keep on taking depression medication?
To have a lasting effect, anti-depressant medication must be taken for the full course. Research shows that the chances of relapse and recurrence are substantially higher the earlier the course is terminated. Depression is normally the result of certain hormonal changes in the body and brain. These are associated with changes in the sensitivity of receptors on which these hormones work. Anti-depressants allow more of these hormones to accumulate, forcing over-sensitive receptors back to their normal level. This takes several weeks which is why anti-depressants do not appear to work straight away and why there may be a delay before there is any outward sign of improvement.

What happens when I stop the depression medication?
Your doctor will advise you about tapering off the medication gradually and about withdrawal symptoms and how to cope with them. You should not stop the medication suddenly without medical supervision.

What are the alternatives to depression medication?
There is little alternative to medication for people who are severely depressed or psychotic, except for psychosurgery and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Anti-depressant medication works better than most other treatments. For those with mild to moderate depression, alternative treatments include the talking therapies, psychotherapy, sunlight and light therapy for sufferers from SAD, exercise and the complementary therapies. However, mildly to moderately depressed people may still get better more quickly on medication than without.

Key Facts: 60-70 percent of depressed people will get better within six to eight weeks if they take anti-depressant medicine. Stopping the medication too early or giving it up is the most common cause of failure to get better from depression. It takes a little time for anti-depressants to start to work, but once the levels in your body have built up, you will quickly begin to feel better, more energetic and interested in things. Avoid alcohol or at least cut down on it if you are taking any medication. Don’t stop taking the medication suddenly without medical supervision.