Depression medication

Anti-depressants to treat depression

Chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in your brain carry messages (nerve impulses) from one nerve to another. Three such messengers are serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. They are responsible for your moods (how you feel).

During depression, your brain releases fewer neurotransmitters than usual. This affects how messages get carried to certain areas of the brain.

Medicines that treat depression increase the availability of neurotransmitters to transmit messages between neurons. Medicines do not "add" anything to your brain chemistry. They allow normal brain chemistry to "work" as it should.

There are many different types of antidepressant medicines, each of which affect the messengers differently:

  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (known as SSRI) target serotonin and keeps the nerves from reabsorbing it; Prozac®, Lexapro®, Celexa®, Zoloft®, and Paxil® are included.
  • other anti-depressants (there are several other medicines that target neurotransmitters: selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors; SNRIs; Wellbutrin® and Effexor® are included)
  • tricyclic antidepressants (prevent the nerves from reabsorbing the neurotransmitters)
  • monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors (allow more neurotransmitters).

Mood stabilizers to treat bipolar disorder

Medicines to treat bipolar disorders work by changing the way nerves receive the neuro-transmitters. The nerve that receives the message is less excitable. It passes the message on at a normal rate of speed.

There are different types of mood stabilizers including lithium and anticonvulsants.


Take any medicine as directed by your health care provider.

Please be patient. It may take a few weeks before you feel better.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education, Depression Workbook, mh-ahc-94394
First Published: 01/01/2011
Last Reviewed: 01/01/2011

How depression medication works - Messages from the brain go to nerves through neurotransmitters (chemical that sends the message to the next nerve). Your brain releases fewer neurotransmitters than usual. This causes the next nerve to send the messages slower. With depression medication, a barrier is formed to keep the nerve messenger from going back into the nerve. More nerve messengers are sent out at normal speed.