What Medication Often Can’t Do for Depression

In the treatment of major depressive disorder, medication is often considered the first line of offense. While there are different ways to address depressive symptoms, antidepressant medication affects most depressed patients and can lead to good results, especially in conjunction with other therapies. However, medication isn’t always the best answer for depression, even when it’s the first.

While some other prescription drugs may be used in the fight against depression, most psychiatrists prescribe antidepressants, which try to help regulate depressive symptoms by increasing the availability of certain chemicals in the brain tied to mood and emotion. Different types of drugs target different chemicals, and various brands and formulations within each type achieve the same end goal through different compounds. As such, antidepressants are often divided into types (SSRIs, SNRIs, MAOIs, TCAs, etc.) and then further into brands and products (Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, etc.).

The large variety in antidepressant medication helps give some context to the fact that these drugs don’t all work the same for every patient – some patients take well to a certain antidepressant, but others experience no relief with the same drug. Some do experience fewer symptoms, but alongside a host of serious side effects. Ideally, psychiatrists work with patients to identify an antidepressant that is both effective and has minimal or no side effects. But that is not an easy process. Meanwhile, it’s important to be aware that there are caveats to antidepressants.


Medication Can’t Cure Depression

To be more precise, there is no way to cure depression. All treatments for depression aim to reduce and potentially eliminate depressive symptoms permanently, or at least for a time – but the underlying cause for depression is often either within the patient’s genes, or in their environment.

Therapy, medication, and alternative treatments can help improve quality of life and help a patient better learn to manage their symptoms and overcome them should they return, but depression is not an illness we can permanently cure yet.


Medication Can’t Promise Efficacy

There is no surefire way of telling how effective medication will be until you try it, and no pharmaceutical company or doctor will try to predict exactly how effective any given type of medication is going to be until it has had a chance to work in its full capacity. To that end, it’s quite possible and sadly common that antidepressants won’t do enough to make you feel substantially different after beginning treatment.


Medication Might Not Work Alone

it’s also important to note that many patients are urged to try different drugs to find something more effective (with clear and careful instructions from a doctor in regards to weaning off certain medication before trying out a new treatment), and antidepressants should be part of a holistic and comprehensive treatment plan, rather than a single solution.


Medication Isn’t Fast

It takes time for an antidepressant to start working, and it takes just as much time for it to stop working. When running through a gamut of antidepressant drugs, it is typically always standard procedure to wait for the drug to take effect, observe its efficacy, and then move onto a different kind of medication if the effects leave much to be desired, or if any drastic side effects occur.

It can take up to a month for an antidepressant to start affecting the brain, and it is important to wean off the drug before switching to different medication – a process that can take another month. Given a week or more between the end of the ‘warmup’ and the beginning of the weaning phase, it often takes several months for patients to find the right antidepressant or discover that they do not respond to antidepressants at all. This process can be difficult and frustrating to say the least, requiring the aid and support of friends and loved ones to maintain hope.

Medication is not the perfect solution to depression, and in some cases, it is not the best solution either. However, it is simple, viable in all locations, doesn’t require certain facilities and equipment to administer, and boasts widespread effectiveness over other treatments, making it the first line treatment for depressive disorders and other mental health conditions, including anxiety.


Continuing Treatment When Medication Doesn’t Work

An estimated 5.5 million adults in the United States struggle with symptoms of depression and do not respond effectively to antidepressant medication. For this portion of the population, prescription drugs that are commonly used to try and tame the disorder seem ineffective. It’s easy to see how that can effectively dash a person’s hopes and dreams, but it need not be that way – while treatment-resistant depression is frightening, there is still hope.

Depressive disorders can be treated without antidepressants, in cases where the drugs prove ineffective. There are several alternative options to consider, including transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) – a type of therapy that has proven particularly useful for helping patients with treatment-resistant depression, a term for cases of major depressive disorder wherein antidepressant drugs don’t work.

TMS is a non-invasive and non-drug treatment that employs magnetic waves to help affect certain pathways in the brain and make lasting changes in the way a person’s mood is regulated by the brain’s endocrine and neurotransmission systems. In other words, by using strong magnetic waves, the cells in the brain are signaled to better regulate a person’s mood. No anesthesia or medication is necessary for TMS to function – all it takes is a multi-session treatment plan that spans roughly 4-6 weeks. Each session takes less than half an hour, with multiple sessions typically scheduled throughout the week. As research in the topic continues, doctors find better ways to utilize TMS technology, cutting down on treatment time and improving its efficacy in the treatment of depression, and potentially, other disorders.

TMS is one of several different FDA-approved alternative treatment methods in the fight against depression. And while millions of Americans struggle with depression despite the use of antidepressants, millions more swear by them as the best way to help regulate the disorder and allow them to take charge of their life through therapy and other supplementary treatment methods. There is always hope for things to get better, no matter how bad they might seem.


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