for better mental health

Antidepressants

Explains what antidepressants are, how they work, possible side effects and information about withdrawal.

If you experience depression

If you experience depression, you may:

  • feel very down a lot of the time
  • no longer enjoy the things you usually enjoy
  • find it hard to talk to people about how you feel
  • find it hard to look after yourself and carry out day-to-day tasks
  • self-harm or experience suicidal feelings, especially if you have severe depression.

Taking antidepressants may help to lift your mood. This can help you feel more able to do things that don’t feel possible while you’re depressed. This may include using other types of support for your mental health. See our page on treatments for depression to find other options which may help.

If you feel unable to keep yourself safe, it's a mental health emergency.

Get emergency advice

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) produces guidelines on best practice in healthcare. This includes guidelines for prescribing antidepressants for people with different levels of depression. These guidelines suggest the following:

  • If you’re diagnosed with severe depression, your doctor is more likely to offer you an antidepressant. This is because antidepressants are more likely to be effective for severe depression. You may be offered antidepressants alongside other treatments.
  • If you’re diagnosed with mild to moderate depression, your doctor is likely to offer other treatments before antidepressants. For example, this could be a talking therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The NICE guidelines recommend that antidepressants are not the first or main treatment for mild to moderate depression. This is because the unpleasant side effects of the medication can outweigh the benefits.
  • Some doctors may offer you antidepressants alongside other treatments for mild to moderate depression. Or they may offer them instead of other treatments. Your doctor should always discuss your options with you, to help you decide which treatment works best for you. Our page on what to think about before taking antidepressants has information which may help you with this decision.

If you experience anxiety

If you have a form of anxiety or phobia, an antidepressant could help you feel calmer  and more able to deal with other problems. It could also help you feel more able to benefit from other anxiety treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). 

"Once I started taking [an antidepressant], I started to feel better. I was then able to start to see a psychologist and work on the deeper rooted issues."

How soon will they start working?

Everybody’s experience of medication is different. Most antidepressants take one to two weeks to start working. But you might feel some benefits sooner than this, such as improved sleep.

Speak to your doctor if you don’t feel any benefit after taking an antidepressant regularly for two to four weeks, or if you feel worse. It’s possible that a different antidepressant might suit you better.

"I was a total mess before I started my antidepressants. After a struggle through the first two weeks, I began to see the light at the end of what had been a very long tunnel."

What's it like to take antidepressants?

Everyone's experience of antidepressants is different. Hear Chris, Georgia, Mark, Cathy, Rose, Jess and Liz tell their stories in these videos.

This information was published in September 2020. We will revise it in 2023.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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