What Medication Is Most Commonly Prescribed for Depression

Medications Most Commonly Prescribed for Depression

The most common categories of medications used to treat clinical depression as well as anxiety are SSRIs and SNRIs.

The SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, work to increase the amount of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin works as a neurotransmitter, but you can think of it as a chemical messenger. These messengers carry information between the neurons or brain cells. When the level of serotonin in the brain is low, you may develop depression, anxiety, or both. These simple medications are often used successfully to treat MDD or GAD.

SNRIs work in much the same way. However, while SSRIs work to impact only one neurotransmitter, SNRIs impact two different neurotransmitters. It’s important to keep in mind that SNRIs are often prescribed when a person is experiencing issues with both depression and anxiety.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors

SSRIs that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved to treat depression include the following:

  • Citalopram (Celexa)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)

Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors

These SNRIs are approved by the FDA as antidepressants:

• Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
• Duloxetine (Cymbalta), also approved to treat anxiety and certain types of chronic pain
• Levomilnacipran (Fetzima)
• Venlafaxine (Effexor XR), also approved to treat certain anxiety disorders and panic disorder

Other Antidepressants


Tricyclic and Tetracyclic Antidepressants

Some clients find that SSRIs and SNRIs don’t work as well for them. Some psychiatrists may prescribe Tricyclic or tetracyclic antidepressants. Some of the earliest drugs approved to treat depression, they are not commonly prescribed today because they have more side effects than SSRIs and SNRIs. However, they may be used for clients whose condition did not approve with these medications.

Amitriptyline (brand name Elavil) is a commonly prescribed tricyclic antidepressant, and mirtazapine (brand name Remeron) is a common tetracyclic one.


Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) were the first antidepressants developed. They work much like SSRIs and SNRIs in that they affect the chemical makeup of the brain. MAOIs can be used to treat panic disorders, social phobias, and depression with atypical features.

Caution is advised when using MAOIS because of potentially harmful drug-to-drug and drug-to-food interactions.


Bupropion may be prescribed as a generic medication. Many will recognize the name Wellbutrin, a common brand name for the medicine. Bupropion has been utilized to treat various conditions including depression. Bupropion has also been approved to help people stop smoking.

NMDA Receptor Antagonists

These medications have been used in the past to treat Alzheimer’s disease, but they’ve also been approved to treat various types of mood disorders. While doctors do not completely understand the neurobiological mechanisms involved, studies have shown NDMA receptor antagonists, especially ketamine, to deliver rapid results for people with treatment-resistant depression.

Noradrenaline and Specific Serotonergic Antidepressants (NaSSAs)

NaSSAs may be effective for some people who are unable to take SSRIs. They have side effects like those of SSRIs but are thought to cause fewer sexual issues. They may cause more drowsiness at first. Mirtazapine (Remeron) is an example of a commonly prescribed NaSSA.


Deplin (L-methylfolate), composed of synthetic folic acid, a form of vitamin B, is a food medicine or nutraceutical that can help to treat depression. It may be used along with an antidepressant drug in order to treat the condition. Available by prescription only, Deplin is specifically intended to meet a depressed individual’s nutritional needs.

How Do You and Your Physician Determine What Medication Is Right for You?

Ultimately, you and your healthcare provider must determine the correct medication to treat your symptoms. You may experience some trial and error in finding the right medication to treat the condition. It’s important to keep in mind that most individuals must take the medication for at least four weeks before seeing any type of change. It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions, such as eating with the medication or taking it on an empty stomach. You should note any physical side effects you experience while taking the medication.

Sometimes, the only way to fully treat symptoms is to take a combination of different medications. If you have bipolar depression, your doctor may combine an antidepressant along with a mood stabilizer such as lithium in order to fully treat your symptoms.

There’s no need to give up when it comes to treating their symptoms of depression. No one individual will share the same experience as another, but people with depression need to keep all medical appointments and tell their physician about any side effects. For most clients, one full month of taking a prescribed medication is necessary to see any relief from symptoms.

It may also be beneficial to combine medications with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). You might decide to start CBT while working with your doctor to find the proper medications for your symptoms. Talking with a therapist during CBT sessions can help you with symptoms while you’re waiting for the medication to work.

What If You Need to Take a Combination of Medications?

It’s necessary to take all medications as prescribed. Some physicians will prescribe an antidepressant, such as those listed above, along with an antipsychotic medication such as Abilify, Rexulti, and Seroquel.

A Cambridge University study in 2018 found that treating depression with two medications, an antidepressant and an antipsychotic, resulted in better outcomes than if the client had used only one medication or a placebo.

What Are the Side Effects of Antidepressants?

The exact side effects of antidepressants depend on which medication you are taking. SSRIs and SNRIs have a certain set of commonly reported side effects, as do MAOIs and TCAs. Let’s take a look at some of the most common side effects you may encounter when first taking any kind of antidepressant.

• Nausea
• Changes in the digestive system, including constipation or stomach upset
• Loss of libido
• Loss of appetite
• Weight gain or loss
• Erectile dysfunction
• Dry mouth
• Night sweats
• Changes in sleeping patterns
• Dizziness and blurry vision

Many individuals will stop taking antidepressant medication in order to stop the uncomfortable side effects associated with it. These medications make changes to your brain chemistry, which is one reason you may experience those side effects listed above. Side effects typically dissipate within a month of starting the medication as the body becomes accustomed to the drug.

There are some instances where individuals simply cannot take certain antidepressants. You may be allergic to an ingredient in the medication, or you simply may be unable to tolerate the side effects. It’s imperative to speak with your doctor so that you can make these decisions together. Once these medications are introduced into your system, you should not discontinue use without the consent of your physician. Stopping a medication abruptly without your doctor’s supervision can also lead to side effects or even make your depression worse.

What Medications Are Used to Treat Anxiety?

Many anxiety disorders are treated with SSRIs and SNRIs. These have been shown to be highly effective. There are some specifically anti-anxiety medications as well. In particular, benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety.

Many physicians are reluctant to prescribe some medications for anxiety, however, as they might be abused. These medications include Xanax and Valium. In some instances, mild to moderate anxiety disorders may be treated with Ativan. Ativan has less of a risk of dependency, although there is still a measurable risk. Because you would need to consume more and more of any of these medications in order to maintain the same effect, physicians tend not to prescribe these medications for long-term use.

There are some medications that have been found to treat anxiety in an off-label manner. They include:

• Neurontin (gabapentin)
• Lyrica (pregabalin)
• Propranolol (a blood pressure medication)

Buspar has been approved by the FDA to treat anxiety, but it’s considered to be “in its own class.”

What Are Treatments for Panic Attacks?

Individuals with depression or anxiety may experience panic attacks as one of their chief symptoms. Typically, those who experience multiple panic attacks may be provided treatment in the form of medications plus psychotherapy. This approach may take some time, so follow your doctor’s advice.

What Other Methods Are Used to Prevent or Lessen the Incidence of Panic Attacks?

There are some behaviors and habits one can adapt in order to prevent the incidence of panic attacks. They include:

• Yoga
• Regular exercise
• Refraining from smoking, using recreational drugs, and taking alcohol or caffeine
• Improving sleep hygiene
• Acupuncture

Understanding Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Diagnosis and Treatment

To diagnose and treat GAD, you must first rule out any physical condition that might contribute to anxiety. In some instances, thyroid or endocrine system issues could contribute to panic attacks.

Some physical triggers for panic attacks also include low blood sugar, low calcium, and certain cardiac issues. Once a physician has ruled out a physical cause of panic attacks, treatment can be prescribed.

What Are the Treatments for Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

First, many physicians will prescribe some of the above medications for anxiety. This may be used with or without other forms of therapy, such as CBT. In addition to the medications mentioned previously, your physician may prescribe Tofranil, a tricyclic antidepressant.

Those with mild cases of anxiety disorder may benefit from treatment involving beta blockers (typically used to lower blood pressure) or even antihistamines. These medications may help those who experience social anxiety disorders or performance anxiety.

Buspar may also be used to treat panic attacks and GAD. This medication is not associated with dependence, which may make it a better choice for some individuals.

Multiple forms of psychotherapy are available to treat anxiety disorders, including restructuring your thinking patterns. Biofeedback may also be used by mental health professionals to combat GAD.

Finally, you can receive therapy in order to modify your lifestyle. This may be something as simple as adding exercise to your weekly routine, or it may involve meditation.

When treating depression or anxiety disorders, it’s important to see a professional. A wealth of professionals and treatment centers exist specifically to treat these conditions. If you want help for depression, call the National Depression Hotline. We have professionals who can talk with you and offer additional services based on your condition. We can also direct you to resources in your state.