Weighing the Ups and Downs of Taking Antidepressants

Evidence antidepressants don't make you high: They have no street value.
Antidepressant medications such as Prozac and Zoloft are so popular they're advertised on television. But the same drug that gives your co-worker relief might make you jittery or cause weight gain. Watch as this patient describes her efforts to find the right medication for her depression.

Antidepressants work—though exactly how, why, and for whom is a complicated question.

Some 65% to 85% of people who take them improve within six to nine months. One study tracking more than 100 patients who took antidepressants and participated in talk therapy found that this combination prevented 80% of the subjects from relapsing.

Symptom relief can take weeks
How antidepressants work is a subject of ongoing research and speculation. The prevailing theory is that they boost chemicals in the brain, especially the neurotransmitters serotonin and neuropinephrine, that make you feel better.

But scientists at Johns Hopkins University recently suggested an alternative theory: that antidepressants make brain cells regenerate.

You may start to feel better within one to three weeks of taking antidepressant medicine. But it can take as many as six to eight weeks to see further improvement. If you have questions or concerns about your medication or if you don't notice any improvement by the three-week mark, talk to your doctor.

"A misconception about antidepressant medications is that they affect everyone the same way," says Tracey Lipsig Kite, a psychologist in private practice in Evanston, Ill. "Some people are so sensitive to the side effects, and there are others who are fine with the side effects but for whom the meds don't work at all."

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Last Updated: April 18, 2008

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