For some individuals suffering from depression, counseling and therapy may be enough to control the symptoms. For others, it is medically necessary to use medications designed to manage the disorder. According to the American Psychological Association, both methods can be effective when each case is taken individually. In some cases, the severity of the depression is used to determine whether to incorporate medication into the treatment plan.
Understanding how medications are used to control the symptoms of depression requires a brief look into the human brain. The brain is made up of cells called neurons. Each neuron communicates with the neurons around it through the release of chemicals known as neurotransmitters. Each neurotransmitter has a distinct purpose. When they are released by one neuron, they travel through a space between the neurons – the synapse – until they are collected by the neighboring neurons. When using medication to treat depression, the various medications affect the levels of certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine.
Dopamine is the brain chemical that is believed by some researchers to be directly linked to one’s motivation. A research project funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and completed at the University of Connecticut has found that decreased levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine could cause a person to choose an activity that requires less effort; that is, they may choose not to go out with friends because it is too demanding to get ready and go out than it is to curl up on the sofa and fall asleep.
Another neurotransmitter that affects mood is serotonin. This brain’s levels of serotonin can change how an individual sees the world around them, according to an article published in Medical News Today. For instance, in rats, when a lower level of serotonin is present, females may not exhibit the same maternal instincts as healthy rats. Another study showed that humans with lower serotonin levels, when shown pictures of loving couples, found their interpretations of the images as less intimate or loving than those who had normal levels of serotonin.
Both of these types of behaviors – a lack of motivation to participate in activities once enjoyed, and feelings of sadness or loss of pleasure – are both symptoms of depression, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI)
When a neuron releases a neurotransmitter into the synapse, an appropriate amount of the chemical is received by the cells around it. The excess chemical is reabsorbed back into the original cell. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors prevent this absorption from taking place, which then alters the balance of the chemicals in the brain. This causes the brain to produce more serotonin, which can then change the way the brain reacts to the chemical and consequently changes the moods and behaviors of someone suffering from depression. Specifically, it will enhance one’s mood or make it better. A few popular medications used for this purpose in the United States include Prozac, Lexapro, Paxil and Zoloft.
Other types of medications that work in similar fashion are known as SNRIs, or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. These drugs work on both the brain chemical serotonin and the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that is related to how the body responds to stress.
Getting Help Is the Most Important Step to Deal With Depression
Depression affects many people, and unfortunately many people are too embarrassed to ask for help. The truth is that suffering from depression is not a condition that will simply go away on its own. It is even possible that the condition, without appropriate attention and treatment, will get progressively worse as the likelihood of abusing drugs or alcohol to cope with the condition is increased.
If you or someone you love exhibits any of the following symptoms, it may be the result of a clinical depression. Symptoms include feelings of:
- Wanting to die
Other symptoms might be difficulty sleeping or lack of energy resulting in excessive sleeping, inability to enjoy activities that you used to find pleasure in, isolating yourself from family and friends, or trouble concentrating on work or other activities.
While medication is one form of treatment, often an individual will couple the medication with some kind of therapy, such as talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy in order to address the root causes of the problem. If you have concerns about yourself or someone you love, please feel free to contact us here at Axis to find out what options may be available for you and your family.