Woman sitting by window with hand over face, tired looking

Depression Treatment: How Effective Are Antidepressants?

by | Oct 3, 2023 | Blog

Depression is a well-known mental health condition often treated with antidepressants. However, misconceptions about their effectiveness persist.

Some people fear that antidepressants can change your personality or cause you to become lifeless. Others think it’s all in your head and that the medications don’t actually do anything to help. Here’s what you need to know about your mental health and how to treat depression when antidepressants don’t work. Are antidepressants effective? Yes, for some people.

Identifying Depression

First, it’s important to understand depression and how it affects a person. It’s beneficial if you’re taking antidepressants and want to gauge how well they’re working. Understanding what depression looks like for you and how these symptoms impact your quality of life is an important step in your treatment journey. Depression symptoms can range widely from person to person.

Common depression symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad or down most of the time
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Feeling constantly tired or lacking energy
  • Having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Feeling hopeless or feelings of worthlessness
  • Struggling to focus or make decisions
  • Feeling irritable or easily frustrated
  • Feeling guilty or fixating on past failures

However, these symptoms can also present in your physical body (somatic symptoms). People with depression often suffer from weight fluctuations, increased pain sensitivity, fatigue, changes in sleep, and a weakened immune system. It’s difficult for depression to get diagnosed if you only present with physical symptoms rather than some of the more common changes in your lifestyle.

If you’re unsure, start by taking our free depression self-assessment and discover the resources we offer to support you every step of the way.

Commonly Prescribed Antidepressants

Antidepressants are a type of depression medication that is meant to rebalance the chemicals in your brain. They’re supposed to increase neurotransmitters and improve your mood and emotions. Some of the medications that act as antidepressants include:

  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)
  • Trazodone (Desyrel)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Buproprion (Wellbutrin)

You can also find other less commonly used antidepressants, such as venlafaxine and aripiprazole. However, the five listed above are some of the most prescribed. The problem is that there is the question of antidepressant effectiveness. Most people prescribed antidepressants may go through at least one or two changes in their prescription to find one that works. Additionally, each medication carries potential side effects that need careful management. Many people seek treatment from their primary care which leads to an important conversation on expertise.

The Value of an Expert Diagnosis and Prescription

Depression does not discriminate— it affects both young and old and from all walks of life. For adults with depression, life stressors like job pressures, societal expectations, and past traumas can intensify symptoms. Depression is not a one-size-fits-all condition. Its manifestation varies across individuals regarding symptoms, when it onsets, and the degree of severity. Symptoms include irritability, sleep disturbances, appetite changes, and focus problems. Adults can adeptly hide their symptoms, leading to potential misdiagnosis. A professional evaluation ensures that the treatment is tailored to one’s specific needs based on expert training.

Combining medication with therapy is often the most effective approach to treating depression. According to Dr. Heather Jones, our Medical Director, adopting a ‘top-down approach to treatment’ can significantly enhance the success of your treatment. Specialized care provides the opportunity to address the unique aspects of your mental well-being that might otherwise go unnoticed in general treatments. In mental health, we distinguish between primary care’s focus on treating the body and our focus on treating the mind. With expertise in mental well-being, mental health professionals can discern nuanced details that significantly improve overall treatment outcomes. Dealing with depression is challenging enough; starting with a strong foundation is invaluable advice. Expert care ensures that you receive a tailored treatment plan that considers your specific needs, including any co-occurring health issues that might affect your response to medications. Their guidance will empower you with knowledge about your mental health needs, available treatment options, and valuable resources. First, it’s essential to understand the type of depression that impacts your quality of life (yes, there is more than one type).

There’s also the possibility that the antidepressants don’t work; seeking a mental health expert for support is needed to determine the next steps in treatment.

Why Antidepressants Don’t Work the Same for Everyone

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. Antidepressants don’t work for everyone because individual brain chemistry varies, and the specific causes of depression can differ, making it challenging to find a one-size-fits-all solution. Medication tolerance, side effects, and treatment adherence can also impact effectiveness. Depression takes on a unique form in each individual, requiring an equally unique approach to treatment. It can take 4-8 weeks for individuals to experience relief from depression symptoms.

Starting antidepressants usually begins with a low dose to gauge its effects. If it doesn’t seem to relieve your depression symptoms, the dose might be adjusted, or another drug might be tried. It’s essential to keep an eye on how you respond. For example, consult your doctor if it impacts your sleep negatively or you don’t notice any improvements. This systematic process of personalizing treatment is a cornerstone of effective depression treatment.

How to Treat Depression When Antidepressants Don’t Work

The first step you should take if your antidepressants don’t seem to work is to contact your doctor or psychiatrist. Let them know that you’ve been taking them regularly but either feel the same or worse than before. To see if a medication works for you, it should be taken at an adequate dose and duration. This ensures it has enough time to show results but might be stopped earlier if serious side effects occur.

According to the STAR*D study, the likelihood of finding relief dropped substantially after three medication trials. In some cases, an augmenting (helper) medication may be added to improve the effectiveness. These findings are based on averages from a study population, and individual experiences can vary. Trials are based on medications of adequate dose and duration. Treatment decisions should always be made in consultation with a mental health professional to ensure the best treatment outcomes. It is important to highlight that providers commonly see patients with a medication history who have not been prescribed adequate doses for therapeutic relief—more reason to seek treatment from a depression expert.

Alternative Treatments for Depression: TMS Therapy and Spravato

There are effective alternative treatments for depression. Some alternative treatments include TMS therapy, Spravato (esketamine), variations of talk therapy, exercise, and meditation. And ideally, a crafted combination.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy directly impacts how your brain functions. It uses magnetic fields to stimulate the nerve cells in your brain. More specifically, it targets the left prefrontal cortex when treating depression. It’s a non-invasive and non-pharmacological option. This often requires commitment on the patient’s part. However, it has proven highly effective in treating depression.

Spravato is a prescription nasal spray that provides fast, temporary relief from depression symptoms. It works differently from traditional antidepressants and can complement their effects.

If you or a loved one can’t find relief, it may be time to look into alternative treatments for depression. And learn more about treatment-resistant depression.

Find Depression Treatment Near Me

Antidepressants can prove very effective for some people. However, it may take some trial and error with the help of a mental health professional. And beyond medications, other alternative treatments offer opportunities to find relief.

If you’re in Broomfield, Denver, Portland, Salem, or Clackamas and are still wondering how to treat depression when antidepressants don’t work, BestMind Behavioral Health is here. We are dedicated specifically to the mental health needs of our communities, specializing in effective depression treatment. Contact us for a free consultation for depression treatment.