Are Your Antidepressants Working?

Depression can be debilitating. Fortunately, for the millions of people who suffer from depression, antidepressants can provide significant relief. Antidepressants don't work the same way for everyone, however. The effectiveness can vary over time and from person to person. Here are a few tips to help you determine if your antidepressant is working.

Depression causes mood-related symptoms, such as prolonged sadness, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, and trouble thinking, concentrating, and making decisions. It can also disrupt normal functioning, interfering in work, school, activities, and relationships. If you're depressed, you may lose interest in things you once enjoyed; your sleep and appetite may change; and you may feel tired and lethargic.

The goal when treating depression is to put the illness in remission--to relieve symptoms and return patients to normal functioning. It takes time for antidepressants to begin working and they take affect gradually. Allow four to eight weeks before judging whether your antidepressant is effective.

If your antidepressant is working, you should begin enjoying activities again. Your sleeping and eating patterns should return to normal, your energy levels should increase, and your anxiety should subside. Even if you feel sad, you should now be able to evaluate your sadness objectively, without being overwhelmed by the negative emotions.

In clinical settings, mental health professionals use several screening tools to evaluate depression treatment effectiveness. For example, the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) determines how depressed you are, which helps your physician gauge how well your treatment is working.

Should you not respond, or only partially respond, to your current antidepressant, don't settle for less than full remission. Up to 30 percent of depression patients don't respond to their first (or even their second) antidepressant. It's worth persevering to find a treatment that does work. Not only will you feel better, mental health experts agree that patients who find a treatment that completely relieves their symptoms are less likely to have a relapse later.

Your physician can prescribe another antidepressant, increase your dose, or recommend other treatment options, such as psychotherapy. Furthermore, he or she should rule out any other medications or underlying medical condition, such as anemia or hypothyroidism, which may interfere in your antidepressant's effectiveness. There is a new test that measures changes in brain wave patterns so clinicians can quickly predict whether an antidepressant will be effective. If not, the patient's physician can change medication if needed, sooner rather than later.

Depression is a highly treatable illness. Don't give up if your antidepressant doesn't work. Chances are another medication will.


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