Antidepressants help restore the normal balance of brain chemicals. When these brain chemicals are in balance, your depression gets better.

Be sure your doctor knows about any other health conditions you have and any medicines you take regularly. This information can affect which antidepressant your doctor prescribes for you.

There are many antidepressant medicines, and they affect brain chemistry in different ways. The first medicine you take may help you feel better. Or you might need to try a few medicines before you find the one that works best for you.

You may start to feel better within 1 to 3 weeks after you start to take an antidepressant. But it can take as many as 6 to 8 weeks to see more improvement. If you have not improved at all after taking an antidepressant for 3 weeks, talk to your doctor. You may need to try a different medicine.

Taking an antidepressant for at least 6 months after you feel better can help keep you from getting depressed again. If this is not the first time you have been depressed, your doctor may want you to take the medicine even longer.

Side effects

Side effects may vary depending on the medicine you take, but common ones include stomach upset, loss of appetite, diarrhea, feeling anxious or on edge, sleep problems, drowsiness, loss of sexual desire, and headaches.

Most side effects are mild and will go away after you take the medicine for a few weeks.

Risks

If your child is taking antidepressants, make sure to tell your child’s doctor about any family history of bipolar disorder and to watch your child closely for signs of manicbehavior. Some people who are first diagnosed with depression turn out to have bipolar disorder, which causes mood swings from depression to mania. A first episode of mania can happen on its own, but it can also be triggered by certain medicines, including antidepressants.

Women who take an SSRI during pregnancy have a slightly higher chance of having a baby with birth defects. But not treating depression can also cause problems during pregnancy and birth. If you are pregnant, you and your doctor must weight the risks of taking an SSRI against the risks of not treating depression.

FDA Advisory. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued anadvisory on antidepressant medicines and the risk of suicide. The FDA does not recommend that people stop using these medicines. Instead, a person taking antidepressants should be watched for warning signs of suicide. This is especially important at the beginning of treatment or when the doses are changed.

Still, for people who are depressed, the benefits of antidepressants are probably greater than the risks. By relieving depression, antidepressants may actually reduce the risk of suicide in the long run.

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