Using Antidepressants

Depression is a mood disorder that affects the way you think and feel. The most common symptom is a feeling of deep sadness. This feeling does not go away or improve on its own. But most types of depression can be helped with therapy and antidepressant medications. (Note: This covers antidepressant use in adults only.)

Doctor holding a prescription bottle and discussing prescription with patient.

What do antidepressants do?

Antidepressants restore the balance of certain chemicals in your brain to help ease your depression. You will likely feel better in 4 to 6 weeks. But you may continue taking antidepressants for a year or more to keep your symptoms from coming back. Some people with depression need to take antidepressants for life. There are several types of antidepressants. The main types are described below.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs are the most effective medications for the treatment of depression. They tend to have fewer side effects than other antidepressants. Possible side effects include anxiety, trouble sleeping, nausea, diarrhea, sexual dysfunction, and headaches. In rare cases, they may make you more depressed. SSRIs shouldn’t be mixed with certain other medications. Talk with your health care provider about all the medications, herbs, and supplements you are taking.

Tricyclic antidepressants

Tricyclics help severe or long-term depression. They have been used for many years with good results. Possible side effects include blurred vision, dry mouth, and constipation.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

If you do not respond to tricyclics or SSRIs, your health care provider may prescribe MAOIs. These medications can be very effective. But people taking MAOIs must avoid certain foods and medications. Your health care provider can tell you more.


If you have bipolar disorder, you may take a medication called lithium. This medication helps even out your mood. Possible side effects are weight gain, trembling, loose stool, and nausea.

Items to avoid if you are taking MAOIs

If you are taking MAOIs, avoid:

  • Beans

  • Aged cheese

  • Chocolate

  • Red wine

  • Most cold medications

  • Certain medications (ask your health care provider

To reduce the risk of lithium poisoning

You can reduce the risk of lithium poisoning by following this advice:

  • Take only the prescribed amount of lithium.

  • Drink plenty of fluids other than coffee, tea, and soda.

  • Limit salt in your diet.

If you have side effects

The side effects of antidepressants are usually mild. But if you have troubling side effects, call your health care provider. Changing the dosage or type of medication may help. Never stop taking medications on your own.


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