Antidepressant medicines

There are many different types of antidepressants. The best choice for you can depend on:

  • how long you have felt depressed
  • your age
  • other medical conditions

How antidepressants work

Depression may occur when the balance of the chemicals that control your mood is upset. Anti-depressants work by restoring the natural balance of some of these chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin. They can lift your mood enough for you to feel less negative and more able to cope with things.

One person described taking antidepressants like this:

'When I was depressed, I felt as if I was slipping down a dark tunnel and couldn’t climb back up to see the light again. Once my antidepressants started to work, I didn’t feel as if I was slipping anymore. I still felt quite low at times but kept seeing more light. I felt I now had the strength to grab hold at the top and pull myself out.'

In the past 10 to 15 years, many new antidepressant medicines have become available. These seem to be more effective with fewer side effects than many of the older types.

Like all medicines, antidepressants may have some side effects. These will vary depending on the drug you are taking. Your doctor or specialist nurse will discuss all this in detail with you.

Taking your tablets

It can take a few weeks of taking antidepressants before you start to feel better.

When your mood starts to lift a little, you are more able to benefit from long term treatments such as talking therapies. 

Some people are worried that they might get hooked on antidepressants. This is unlikely to happen because they are not addictive drugs.

You do need to take antidepressants for a while, even after you feel better. Doctors usually recommend that you take them for at least 6 months.

When you do stop taking them, you need to do it gradually so that your brain and body have time to adjust. It is important to follow your doctor’s advice when stopping antidepressants to allow for this readjustment.

  • Depression in adults with a chronic physical health problem: recognition and management (CG91)

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), October 2009

  • Depression in adults: treatment and management

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), published 29 June 2022

  • Mental health care in oncology. Contemporary perspective on the psychosocial burden of cancer and evidence-based interventions

    R Caruso and W Breitbart

    Epidemiology and psychiatric sciences, 2020. Volume 29, e 86

  • Evidence-based guidelines for treating depressive disorders with antidepressants: A revision of the 2008 British Association for Psychopharmacology guidelines

    A Cleare and others (2015) 

    Journal of psychopharmacology Vol. 29(5) 459–525

Last reviewed: 
03 Nov 2022
Next review due: 
03 Nov 2025

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