Looking into antidepressants? Read this first

Are you feeling down, or lost your motivation in life? Do you think you could have depression? Before you get started on treatment, it’s useful to know what exactly is out there, so you can make an informed decision.

What is Depression?

Depression is a medical illness that affects your mood, body and thoughts. With the right treatment you can be on your way to recovery and live a normal life. It is highly treatable, and between 80-90% of people have a good response and find relief from their symptoms. The condition is commonly treated with antidepressants and psychotherapy.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), around 20% of all South Africans will experience a depressive disorder at least once during their lifetime.

What are the treatment options?

Antidepressants work by helping the balance of certain chemicals in your brain. They can make your symptoms better or get rid of them completely.

There are three main types of medication:

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
These are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. They can ease symptoms of moderate to severe depression and are known to be relatively safe. They typically cause fewer side-effects than other types, and act on the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) serotonin (the feel-good hormone).

Serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
This type is similar to the SSRI’s. SNRIs work by causing changes in your brain chemistry and communication in the brain nerve cell circuitry that regulates mood to help relieve depression. SNRIs block the reabsorption (reuptake) of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine (the stress hormone) in the brain. They’re often used when the depression has painful physical symptoms like headaches and muscle pain.

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Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs)
These affect the reuptake of norepinephrine and dopamine (which control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres). It increases the amount of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain which brings on a positive effect in moods.

Common side-effects:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Irritability/anxiety
  • Decreased appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sexual disturbances

Do antidepressants change your personality?

If taken correctly, antidepressants won’t affect your personality. They will help you function normally again on a daily basis. In some cases, people may experience a loss of emotions while on certain antidepressants. Speak to your doctor about possible side-effects. You may have to lower your dosage or switch to a different antidepressant. Antidepressants help your symptoms. Don’t be ashamed about taking them. Remember, depression is a health problem, not a character flaw or weakness.

Will I take antidepressants for the rest of my life?

It’s suggested that people who take antidepressants for a first-time episode of depression should take them continuously for six to nine months. Once an antidepressant gets working and depression is under control, talk to your doctor and decide when would be the best time to stop your meds.

Good to know

It’s important to take the correct dosage of your medication for the specified time given by your doctor. While antidepressants aren’t addictive, if you decide to stop taking them without getting the okay from your doctor, you may experience withdrawal symptoms.

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