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Let's Talk About Depression Medication

Antidepressants and other depression-fighting meds are thought to help restore the balance of chemicals called neurotransmitters in the brain. Understanding your options and figuring out which drugs work best for you can be a game-changer for easing depression.

    Our Pro PanelDepression Medication

    We asked some of the nation's top depression experts to bring you the most up-to-date information possible.

    James B. Potash, M.D., M.P.H.

    James B. Potash, M.D., M.P.H.Henry Phipps Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Department Director and Psychiatrist-in-Chief

    Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
    Baltimore, MD
    Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D.

    Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D.Chief Medical Officer of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Professor and Chair of Psychiatry at Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences

    Dell Medical School, The University of Texas
    Austin, TX
    Seema Desai, M.D. headshot.

    Seema Desai, M.D.Clinical Assistant Professor, Psychiatrist

    Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine; NYU School of Medicine WTC Health Program Clinical Center of Excellence
    New York, NY

    Frequently Asked QuestionsDepression Medication

    Can I stop taking my antidepressants once I feel better?

    Nope! You know how when you take antibiotics, you feel better after a few days but your doctor makes you take the whole antibiotic regimen so your infection can be fully wiped out? This is kind of the same concept. After an episode of depression, there is a 50% risk that you’ll have another one (after two or three episodes, your risk is much higher). That’s why you should never discontinue your medication without talking to your doctor, and why most experts suggest staying on antidepressants for six to nine months after you feel that you’ve fully recovered—to prevent a relapse. If your depression is chronic, your psychiatrist might suggest you stay on a maintenance dose indefinitely.

    Can genetic testing determine which antidepressant will work best for me?

    Yes, but only to a certain degree. It only takes a quick mouth swab to take a pharmacogenomic test that will analyze your genes and determine which medications are best metabolized (broken down) by your body. If you metabolize a drug too quickly, it might leave your bloodstream before it fully takes effect, so you’d need a higher dose. If you metabolize a medicine too slowly, it can hang around for too long and increase the chance of side effects, so you might need a lower dose. This test can determine which medications are just right for your body’s metabolism. But just because your body can metabolize a drug properly doesn’t mean it is the most effective choice for your depression, which is why some clinicians currently question the relevance of these types of tests. Plus, genetic testing is often prohibitively expensive and, in many cases, not covered by insurance. In 2018, the FDA came out against the use of many genetic tests to predict patient response to specific drugs, saying that “for most medications, the relationship between DNA variations and the medication's effects has not been established.”

    Is antidepressant withdrawal a real thing?

    It’s known as "Discontinuation Syndrome", and 20% of patients who abruptly reduce their SSRI medication dose or stop completely experience symptoms, which typically show up two to four days after quitting antidepressants cold turkey. Those symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, numbness, flu-like symptoms, sadness, emotional sensitivity, and sleep issues. Always talk to your doctor before going off your meds or moving to a lower dose; your doc can give guidance on how to wean off so you don’t have negative side effects.

    Which herbal medicines and supplements are effective treatments for depression?

    As far as we’re concerned, none of them. Before we even get into this conversation, let’s address the fact that the supplement industry is not FDA-regulated. As a consequence, bottles of herbal medicines, supplements, and vitamins don’t always contain what the label claims they do. Even if they did, many herbal remedies interfere with prescription medicines and can cause serious, sometimes fatal, interactions. You can find loads of anecdotal evidence for the depression-fighting properties of many popular supplements like St. John’s wort, fish oil, folic acid, SAMe, and 5-HTP, but more scientific research is needed to back up those claims. They are not a replacement for treatment from a medical professional. If you’re thinking of taking any OTC treatments, make sure to run it by a doctor for possible drug interactions and buy them from a reputable supplier. A good way to find out which supplements pass muster is checking with an independent lab, like ConsumerLab.com or LabDoor, that test them and publishes their rankings.

    Meirav Devash

    Meirav Devash

    @MeiravDevash

    Meirav Devash is a writer, editor, and beauty, health, and wellness expert, reporting on topics from mental health to goth fitness and cannabis law.