Antidepressants: Risks and Benefits

For people suffering from mild depression, seeing a therapist and making some dietary changes, increased exercise, and other behavioral strategies can greatly reduce the symptoms of depression.  For those with Major Depressive Disorder or MDD, however, relief is more elusive and a doctor may suggest antidepressants.  

What Are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants are medications used to treat symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders.  They are designed to change chemicals in the brain that aren’t working properly. Norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine are chemicals in the brain that are related to moods.  In the brains of most people who suffer from MDD, these chemicals don’t work properly so circuits in the brain aren’t making the connections that they should.  Antidepressants work in different ways to help these connections take place.  

SSRIs―Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors are the most-prescribed of all antidepressants.  They directly affect the absorption of serotonin and include brands like Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. 

SNRIs―Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors affect both serotonin and norepinephrine.  These drugs, Cymbalta, Pristiq, and Effexor are often prescribed as a treatment for depression and anxiety when there is also pain.

Atypical Antidepressants―These are drugs that also act on neurotransmitters but aren’t in the same class of drugs as SSRIs and SNRIs.  Common names are Wellbutrin, Remeron, Desyrel, Serzone, and others.

Benefits

Brain chemistry is rarely the sole cause of depression; there are many risk factors that go along with depression such as heredity, illness, grief, and environmental factors so antidepressants usually aren’t the sole solution.  But antidepressants can help to improve moods and make it easier to deal with the underlying issues that are causing symptoms of depression.  They may not be effective for everyone but for some people, antidepressants are a lifesaver. 

Risks

As with any drug, there are bound to be side effects.  While they may vary depending on the drug, side effects for antidepressants may include:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Dizziness
  • Weight gain
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation

Side effects may be mild or severe and if you’re experiencing any, you should discuss them with your doctor to weigh the benefits with the risks.  You may have side effects that are tolerable and are outweighed by the benefits you’re experiencing from the drug. If they’re not, your doctor may be able to prescribe an antidepressant that is effective without giving you side effects.  It’s important to work closely with your doctor when it comes to your medications because abrupt changes in taking them can result in extremely dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

Antidepressants and Risk of Suicide

Because antidepressants work by changing the chemistry in the brain, there’s always a risk that they will have the opposite effect and will increase depression.  The risk of suicide is higher among adolescents and younger adults and usually occurs during the first few months of taking the medication.  Anyone taking antidepressants should be monitored for suicidal behaviors such as worsening depression, increased agitation and irritability, extreme restlessness, talk of suicide, unusual behaviors, and dangerous impulsiveness.  If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal behaviors, immediately seek help from a doctor or therapist, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800)273-8255.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Antidepressants are supposed to lessen the symptoms of depression.  Unfortunately, it can be difficult for some people to find an antidepressant or a combination of medications that will give them relief.  This is where TMS can help. By using strong magnets like those found in an MRI machine, the area of the brain that is associated with depression can be targeted, stimulating the neurotransmitters to work the way they were meant to.  TMS is an FDA-approved treatment that takes place for several weeks and the positive effects can provide relief from symptoms or complete remission. TMS treatments are non-invasive and drug-free and side effects are generally mild.  

At Gateway TMS, we help patients who are suffering from MDD and have been unable to find relief with antidepressants to find a solution that can work for them.  We help you through the entire process, from your initial consultation to filling out insurance forms to your treatments, to ensure that you understand and feel comfortable with your treatment.  Using the Neurostar TMS procedure, we strive to bring patients who have failed to find relief with antidepressants a treatment that can provide them with a long term solution to their struggles with depression.  Call Gateway today at (314)909-8487 to find out how we can help.