The world of antidepressants can feel daunting, but hopefully this beginner guide will make things a little clearer
Antidepressants are a form of medication that are primarily used to treat depression, but can also be used to help treat anxiety, bulimia, OCD, PTSD and many other conditions.
They are prescribed by a doctor, and can be an effective means of treating mental health (often in combination with other things).
There are 27 different antidepressants licensed for prescription in the UK, which can mostly be broken down into 4 categories: SSRIs, SNRIs, Tricyclics and MAOIs.
These abbreviations come from how the medication works. It’s important to remember that many medications have side effects, and everyone reacts to these differently. Some people experience several, and others experience none.
So what do they stand for and what is it they do they do exactly?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter – a chemical that allows messages to be delivered around the brain.
It helps to regulate mood, libido, sleep, memory and some social behaviour, and it gets released by nerve cells.
A lack of serotonin is believed to negatively impact these areas, while generally higher levels of serotonin can improve your mood.
As the most commonly prescribed antidepressant in the UK, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) work by stopping the serotonin from being reabsorbed by the brain. This makes it more readily available and the “good” mood last longer.
Typically prescribed for six months at a time, they take at least a couple of weeks to a month to kick in, with some mild side effects.
Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) are one of the newest antidepressants available.
They work very similarly to SSRIs, and can be used to treat more severe depression/anxiety.
They act on both serotonin and noradrenaline (a stress hormone and neurotransmitter).
Their action is selective, allowing them to target brain chemicals affecting mood with less side effects.
Potential side effects for SSRIs and SNRIs include: anxiousness, dry mouth, diarrhoea, and constipation.
Sometimes shortened to TCAs, tricyclic antidepressants work by prolonging serotonin and noradrenaline in the brain.
First developed in the 1950s, they can have more unpleasant side effects in comparison with other types.
These include dry mouth, blurred vision, sweating and restlessness.
Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) make it more difficult for noradrenaline and serotonin to be broken down.
The main aim is the same as the other types of antidepressant – keeping key chemicals available and working in the brain so you can feel the positive effects!
These are often a final option, prescribed after having tried all others, because they can interact with some food types.
Taking them means a strict diet needs to be followed, which is not the case with other kinds of antidepressants.
Having sex on antidepressants
Being aware of how the medication is impacting you means that if anything feels wrong or is worrying you, then you can – and should – go back to the prescriber and make a change.
A common reality is that some antidepressants, such as SSRIs, can deplete your sex drive. They can also affect your ability to orgasm, time taken to orgasm and for guys, to stay erect during sex.
This is down to the change in dopamine levels some conditions – and the antidepressants – cause in the brain.
But this varies a lot on your metabolism, and you may not experience any side effects at all. Then again, SNRIs have shown less of an effect on sexual arousal, but may not be quite right for some people.
Don’t let the idea of side effects put you off trying something that could absolutely change your life for the better. And, given how you’ve been feeling, you may not have been feeling up to sex much anyway.
It’s important that you talk to a medical professional before changing or stopping any medication, as there can be withdrawal difficulties.
I think I may need antidepressants
If you feel that you might benefit from taking an antidepressant, well done for doing your research and being proactive in looking after yourself!
It’s nothing to be ashamed of and for many people, a combination of medication and lifestyle changes make a world of difference.
Your next steps are to:
💭 Talk to a professional. Your GP is a good starting point, but you could also speak to a counsellor, school nurse or walk in centre for advice.
💭 Remember that meds aren’t an instant fix and they don’t all work equally well for everyone.
💭 Remember: it may take time and dosage changes to find the best fit – don’t be disheartened if you don’t see an immediate effect!
And remember, the more honest you are about your experience, the safer and better your change will be.