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Antidepressant Drugs

Description, PrecautionsRecommended dosage, Side effects, Interactions

Antidepressant drugs are used to treat serious, continuing mental depression that interferes with a person's ability to function. Everyone feels sad, "blue," or discouraged occasionally, but usually those feelings do not interfere with everyday life and do not need treatment. However, when the feelings become overwhelming and last for weeks or months, professional treatment can help. Although depression is one of the most common and serious mental disorders, it is also one of the most treatable. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 80–90% of people with depression can be helped. If untreated, depression can lead to social withdrawal, physical complaints, such as fatigue, sleep problems, and aches and pains, and even suicide.

The first step in treating depression is an accurate diagnosis by a physician or mental health professional. The physician or mental health professional will ask questions about the person's medical and psychiatric history and will try to rule out other causes, such as thyroid problems or side effects of medicines the person is taking. Lab tests may be ordered to help rule out medical problems. Once a person has been diagnosed with depression, treatment will be tailored to the person's specific problem. The treatment may consist of drugs alone, counseling alone, or drugs in combination with counseling methods such as psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy.

Antidepressant drugs help reduce the extreme sadness, hopelessness, and lack of interest in life that are typical in people with depression. These drugs also may be used to treat other conditions, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, premenstrual syndrome, chronic pain, and eating disorders.

Recommended dosage depends on the kind of antidepressant drug, the type and severity of the condition for which it is prescribed, and other factors such as the patient's age. Check with the physician who prescribed the drug or the pharmacist who filled the prescription for the correct dosage.

Side effects depend on the type of antidepressant drug.

Antidepressant drugs may interact with a variety of other medicines. When this happens, the effects of one or both of the drugs may change or the risk of side effects may be greater. Some interactions may be life-threatening. Anyone who takes antidepressant drugs should let the physician know all other medicines he or she is taking.



Breggin, Peter. The Anti-Depressant Fact Book: What Your Doctor Won't Tell You About Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, and Luvox. New York: Persus, 2001.


Johnson, Lois. "Daylight for Depression." Total Health 16 (December 1994): 14.

Sacra, Cheryl. "The New Cure-alls: Mood Lifters May Offer Handfuls Of Hope for More Than Just Depression." Health 22 (September 1990): 36.

"Treatment of Depression: Drugs Alone Are Not Enough." HealthFacts 20 (February 1995): 189.

Nancy Ross-Flanigan


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Cognitive behavioral therapy

—A type of psychotherapy in which people learn to recognize and change negative and self-defeating patterns of thinking and behavior.


—A mood disorder where the predominant symptoms are apathy, hopelessness, sleeping too little or too much, loss of pleasure, self-blame, and possibly suicidal thoughts.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

—An anxiety disorder in which people cannot prevent themselves from dwelling on unwanted thoughts, acting on urges, or performing repetitious rituals, such as washing their hands or checking to make sure they turned off the lights.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

—A set of symptoms that occur in some women 2–14 days before they begin menstruating each month. Symptoms include headache, fatigue, irritability, depression, abdominal bloating, and breast tenderness.

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