Living with depression is no easy feat, and when you throw navigating treatment into the mix, it can become even more complicated.
There are numerous options for addressing depression, from therapy and holistic options to antidepressants. Dr. Ludmila De Faria, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on Women’s Mental Health, explained that “medication can facilitate and accelerate the healing process.”
Antidepressants are not effective for everyone experiencing depression; however, these medications can be beneficial in many cases. So, how do you know when it’s time to take medication for depression? Experts say there are several different factors you should take into account when exploring whether or not an antidepressant may be helpful.
There are clear signs that you may benefit from medication.
Depression can impact both your mental and physical health. Common symptoms of major depressive disorder include sadness, feelings of worthlessness, changes in appetite and sleeping, fatigue, suicidality and difficulty concentrating.
The first line of medications for managing depression are antidepressants. While there are several different classes of antidepressants, some of the most commonly utilized medications are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
The severity and duration of depressive symptoms are two of the most significant factors to keep in mind when considering medication. Once depression has begun to interfere with your daily activities and relationships, the next step is to seek out a psychiatrist or primary care physician trained in mental health.
“We would not usually recommend medication treatment when symptoms of depression are milder or brief,” said Dr. Gregory Simon, a psychiatrist at Washington Permanente Medical Group. “When depression is moderate and lasts for several weeks, then either medication or psychotherapy is often recommended ... Even if symptoms of depression follow a major loss or stress, people may still benefit from treatment if those symptoms last for many months.”
Consulting a psychiatrist can help you decide on whether or not it’s time to try medication.
Doctors will work closely with their patients during a consult to determine if medication is truly the best option, and to decide what medication for depression may be most effective.
“The use of medication to treat depression is unique to each patient and requires a review of their history and current condition,” said Dr. Stuart Lustig, a psychiatrist and national medical executive for behavioral health at Evernorth, Cigna’s health services business.
Lustig further explained that psychiatrists take into account “previously tried treatments such as talk therapy, the patient’s feelings about medication, any underlying medical conditions, anticipated susceptibility to side effects and their ability to follow through with a treatment plan.”
While you may be ready to move forward with medication, psychiatrists will first rule out other possible health issues before prescribing anything. Physical health conditions such as hypothyroidism and diabetes are commonly mistaken for depression.
Dr. Christine M. Crawford, the associate medical director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, explained that a psychiatrist or primary care physician will likely “do a medical workup just to make sure that there aren’t any other underlying medical issues that may be contributing to their moods symptoms.”
“Taking antidepressants is the same as taking antibiotics for your infection, or taking a high blood pressure medication to keep your blood pressure normal.”
Here’s what you can expect if you’re taking medications for the first time.
There are several things to keep in mind if you are beginning mental health medication for the first time, and even when you’re still in the process of considering it.
Though each antidepressant is different, potential side effects include nausea, weight gain or loss, insomnia, dizziness, dry mouth and decreased sex drive. While these are common issues and to be expected, prolonged side effects may be a sign you need to explore other options with your doctor.
It’s also important to note that antidepressants are not a quick fix; continuing to have symptoms of depression when beginning a medication is totally normal.
“It’s not going to be the sort of medicine that as soon as you take it, you immediately feel 100% better,” said Crawford, adding that it can take up four to six weeks before medications take full effect.
Moreover, mental health medications are not a cure-all for depression, but rather another tool you can utilize to manage symptoms. Laura Geftman, a therapist and founder of The Calm, Cool and Collected, has found that “medication management coupled with psychotherapy and other holistic modalities tend to be best practice and enhance quality of living.”
There is no shame in taking medication for depression.
Making the decision to take medication for depression can be difficult and even intimidating at first. Despite the stigma that surrounds taking medication for your mental health, making the choice to talk with a psychiatrist is not a sign of weakness or failure.
“Taking antidepressants is the same as taking antibiotics for your infection, or taking a high blood pressure medication to keep your blood pressure normal,” De Faria said.
Seeking out support from a psychiatrist or physician when you first begin to notice symptoms are worsening could help you to prevent a more severe depressive episode in the long run. Taking medication is not the right path for everyone, but antidepressants can be a lifesaving tool.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.