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Medications for Treating Depression

Medications for Treating Depression

What can these medications do?
What side effects may occur?
What else should I know about antidepressant medications?

You have probably heard of Prozac (fluoxetine), a medication that is used to treat depression. Prozac is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), a fairly new medication that is used to treat depression. When health care providers talk about depression, they mean a case of the blues or the blahs that lasts for at least two weeks. Depression has many symptoms besides just feeling generally "blah," such as feelings of worthlessness, thoughts of death, and changes in eating or sleeping habits. People with depression can also be irritable and lose interest in what's going on around them. The main treatments for depression are psychotherapy and medications, used either alone or together. There are several kinds of medications called antidepressants for treating depression. back to top

What can these medications do?
Studies have shown that medications can be very helpful for treating depression in adults. However, less research has been done on how these medications affect children and teens. In recent years, though, some studies have found that SSRIs, such as Prozac, are both helpful and safe when used for a short time to treat severe depression in young people. These medications are also used for panic disorder, social anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Usually, psychotherapy is tried before or along with the medications.

In addition to SSRIs, there are three other classes of medications used to treat depression. Their tongue-twister names are tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and atypical antidepressants. TCAs and MAOIs have been around longer, but they are not used as often as the newer SSRIs and atypical antidepressants because they cause more side effects. Clomipramine is a TCA often used for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some people take imipramine (another TCA) for bed-wetting. back to top

What side effects may occur?
Medications may help treat depression, but there is no magic pill that will make someone feel better instantly. A person may need to take antidepressant medication for several weeks before starting to feel better. Any medication can cause unwanted side effects as well. The most common side effects of the newer depression medications are diarrhea, upset stomach, and headache. Other possible effects include restlessness, sleep problems, and nervousness. back to top

What else should I know about antidepressant medications?
If you are taking a medication, it is important to ask your health care provider about the possible side effects. Make sure you or a parent knows what to do if side effects occur. Don't stop taking your medication or start taking more or less of it without talking with your health care provider first.

Some questions remain unanswered. One concern is that health care providers may prescribe medications for depression too often because it is the easiest thing to do. Indeed, SSRIs are the second-most widely used kind of medication for mental disorders in young people. Health care providers are giving SSRIs to more and more people at younger and younger ages. Yet there are still many things we don't know about these medications, including what happens when children and teens use them for a long time.

You can't just buy antidepressant medications at the drugstore. A health professional must prescribe all antidepressant medications. If you feel depressed, talk with your parents, another trusted adult, or your health care provider. Don't take someone else's antidepressant medicine, such as a friend's or a parent's. A medication that works for someone else may not work for you and could even hurt you. back to top

Last Modified Date: 3/28/2001
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