Using Antidepressants

Depression is a mood disorder that affects the way you think and feel. The most common symptom is a feeling of deep sadness. This feeling does not go away or get better on its own. But most types of depression can be helped with therapy and antidepressant medicines. (Note: This covers antidepressant use in adults only.)

Doctor holding a prescription bottle and discussing prescription with patient.

What do antidepressants do?

Antidepressants restore the balance of certain chemicals in your brain to help ease your depression. You will likely feel better in 4 to 6 weeks. But you may continue taking antidepressants for a year or more to keep your symptoms from coming back. Some people with depression need to take antidepressants for life. There are several types of antidepressants. The main types are described below.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs are the most effective medicines for the treatment of depression. They tend to have fewer side effects than other antidepressants. Possible side effects include anxiety, trouble sleeping, nausea, diarrhea, sexual dysfunction, and headaches. In rare cases, they may make you more depressed. SSRIs shouldn’t be mixed with certain other medicines. Talk with your healthcare provider about all the medicines, herbs, and supplements you are taking.

Tricyclic antidepressants

Tricyclics help severe or long-term depression. They have been used for many years with good results. Possible side effects include blurred vision, dry mouth, and constipation.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

If you don’t respond to tricyclics or SSRIs, your healthcare provider may prescribe MAOIs. These medicines can be very effective. But people taking MAOIs must stay away from certain foods and medicines. Your healthcare provider can tell you more.


If you have bipolar disorder, you may take a medicine called lithium. This medicine helps even out your mood. Possible side effects are weight gain, trembling, loose stool, and nausea. Lithium is also used:

  • For people who have unipolar depression and have not responded to other antidepressants

  • For people who have a sudden (acute) episode of unipolar depression

  • As a maintenance medicine to prevent unipolar depression from happening again

Things to avoid if you are taking MAOIs

If you are taking MAOIs, don’t take any of the following:

  • Beans

  • Aged cheese

  • Chocolate

  • Red wine

  • Most cold medicines

  • Certain medicines (ask your healthcare provider)

To reduce the risk of lithium poisoning

You can reduce the risk of lithium poisoning by following this advice:

  • Take only the prescribed amount of lithium. If your depressive symptoms get worse, contact your healthcare provider. Never increase your medicine on your own.

  • Drink plenty of fluids other than coffee, tea, and soda.

  • Limit salt in your diet.

  • Before using other prescribed medicines or over-the-counter medicines, check with your pharmacist. This is to be sure the medicines won’t interact with the lithium.

  • Never share your medicines or use another person's medicines, even if it is the same medicine and dose.

If you have side effects

The side effects of antidepressants are usually mild. But if you have troubling side effects, call your healthcare provider. Changing the dosage or type of medicine may help. Never stop taking medicines on your own.