What are antidepressants?
Antidepressants are used to treat a range of mental health conditions
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
If you’ve been feeling depressed or anxious, your GP may have prescribed you antidepressants, to help you manage your mood.
This might seem a little intimidating and overwhelming at first and it’s understandable to feel this way. But don’t worry, antidepressants are a common treatment for several mental health conditions.
Just like antibiotics may be prescribed to treat an infection, antidepressants may be prescribed to manage the symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions.
What are antidepressants?
Antidepressants are a type of medication that is used to treat certain mental health conditions including:
- Moderate to severe depression when therapy has not been effective
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks when therapy has not been effective
- Obsessive compulsive disorders
- Chronic pain
- Eating disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
They can help you feel better or cope with your symptoms.
It is thought that antidepressants work by affecting the chemicals serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine in your body, which can improve your mood and level out your emotions.
Where can I get antidepressants?
If you are feeling depressed or anxious, you should go to your GP and describe how you feel. They will then discuss treatment options for you. If you both feel it would be a good idea, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants to you.
If you are under 18, your GP may not prescribe antidepressants and usually they will only be prescribed to you by a psychiatrist.
How will I feel if I take antidepressants?
Antidepressants can take some time to start working. In the first few days, your mood may disimprove. If they are working, you should notice an improvement in your mood in 2-4 weeks.
Remember, antidepressants do not work the same way or at the same dose for everyone. If you notice no improvement in your mood, you should go back to your GP and discuss your options.
Are there any side-effects?
There are different types of antidepressants that affect different people in different ways. While some people may not experience any side effects, some people will. Some possible side-effects include:
- Nausea (feeling sick)
- Low sex drive, lack of orgasm and, in men, abnormal erection or ejaculation
- Blurred vision
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Dry mouth
- Feeling agitated or shaky
- Insomnia (not sleeping well) or feeling very sleepy
- Loss of appetite (not feeling hungry)
Anti-depressants may also sometimes make your symptoms worse for a time. There is evidence to suggest that they can produce suicidal thoughts or feelings in younger people. If you are feeling suicidal, you should go to A&E right away. You can find information on suicide here.
Are there other treatments for mental health conditions?
Yes – there are lots of different ways to cope with a mental health condition like depression or anxiety and antidepressants are only part of the picture.
Other things that can help people manage the symptoms of depression or anxiety include counselling, positive mental health, better sleep, healthy eating, exercise, avoiding drugs and alcohol and talking to friends and family. You and your doctor can decide what are the best options for you.