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There used to be a lot of stigma around taking antidepressants, but as mental health has shifted from a taboo topic to something more people are comfortable discussing openly, that has changed. Now, up to 19% of people in the U.S. take an antidepressant every month, and usage is on the rise. So, if you’re taking meds for depression, you are not alone. A quick rundown on the science of these medicines: Most antidepressants work by targeting specific neurotransmitters in your brain, the chemical messengers that transmit signals from one nerve cell to the next. Antidepressants affect the ones that control mood and emotion, like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are called SSRIs (a lot easier to remember than selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors!). They work by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. You’ve probably heard of common SSRIs, like Prozac (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline), but there are others—as well as SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), like Cymbalta (duloxetine), which boost serotonin and norepinephrine. There are still more antidepressants, which work in different ways or don’t fit neatly into another category. So...why are there so many different types? Good question. First, depression is a huge challenge personally and globally, as it’s the leading cause of disability worldwide. (Check out our entry on depression in Symptoms to learn more.) Second, many people try several different medications before landing on one that works for them. Finally, antidepressants can work for a while and then stop being effective, leaving some to explore other options. But prescription drugs aren’t your only choice for treating depression. Some people find St. John’s wort, an herbal supplement, helpful for mild depression (but be aware that it interferes with several common meds, including birth control!). Omega-3s in fish, nuts, and seeds, or in capsules, may be a possible depression treatment. Early studies show a link between the amino acid 5-HTP and improved serotonin levels, but again, be careful: This one can also be risky when combined with certain antidepressants. Then there’s DHEA, a synthetic hormone similar to one your body makes that may help improve symptoms of depression. If you want to experiment with a natural remedy to fight depression, talk to your practitioner so you can avoid mixing meds that don’t belong together. Don’t try to figure that out alone!

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Books about Antidepressants

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