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How Do SSRI Antidepressants Work?


In today’s post, I discuss the workings of one particular group of antidepressants. Specifically, I focus on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are antidepressants commonly prescribed to treat depression and sometimes anxiety disorders.

6 thoughts on “How Do SSRI Antidepressants Work?

  • August 11, 2019 at 1:15 am

    Do you think anti depressants lead to dimentia?

    Reply
  • August 12, 2019 at 6:54 pm

    What antidepressant do you think would help with depression

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    • August 15, 2019 at 3:41 am

      Hi Ann, thank you for your question. It is difficult to say which antidepressants are most helpful for depression without discussing types of antidepressants (e.g., SSRIs, SNRIs, ticyclics, MAOs, etc) in detail. But SSRI (and SNRI) antidepressants are most commonly prescribed and appear similar in their effectiveness (with minor variations). The decision of which meds to take is often made on an individual basis by the treating physician and the patient, and can involve trial and error. So the patient takes the med for a month or two, and if it does not work, tries another…and another. Yes, that is far from ideal. In fact, a while back I wrote an article for Psychology Today on quicker ways (using cognitive tests) we might be able to predict which antidepressants would work for patients. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/finding-new-home/201901/can-we-better-predict-whether-antidepressant-will-work In any event, some of the issues the treating physician will consider in deciding if an antidepressant is a good choice for a patient include its effectiveness for the patient’s particular symptoms of depression, side effects, its effects on other conditions (e.g., pregnancy) or its interactions with other medications the patient is taking, financial considerations, etc. For more information, see this link https://vitalrecord.tamhsc.edu/antidepressants-what-is-the-best-medication-for-depression/

      Reply
  • September 7, 2019 at 5:34 pm

    Your explanation is simplistic and is based on assumptions, not science. It’s well proven now, that SSRI’s work no better than placebo. As well, several pharmaceutical companies have been sued for fudging their drug studies, and/or not including adverse events stemming from the use of SSRI’s, including suicide and manic episodes, up to and including contributing to violence of the self and others. The “chemical imbalance” theory is outdated and plain bad science, not backed up by facts. It’s time you either ditched this article, or wrote one more truthful.

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    • September 7, 2019 at 8:46 pm

      Thank you for your post, Anna. You are correct, the actual process is more complicated, as I mentioned in the introductory paragraph. The monoamine hypothesis of depression (and the chemical imbalance idea) is simply one theory of how antidepressants work. It is a theory which has received quite a bit of criticism recently, as you have mentioned. The theory has evolved over the years and is far more complicated nowadays than the basics I have presented here. You are also right that SSRIs can have serious side effects. But I disagree that SSRIs work no better than placebo. Yes, the same antidepressant does not work for every problem or person, but research suggests the right one is more effective than placebo: https://www.nhs.uk/news/medication/big-new-study-confirms-antidepressants-work-better-placebo/

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