How Long Does it Take for Depression Medication to Work? (2022)

It is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans will experience a major depressive episode at some point in their life. Roughly 1 in 10 adults in the United States has had moderate to severe depression symptoms within the past year. For individuals who are living with depression, antidepressant medications can give substantial relief from depressive symptoms.

Treating depression symptoms is critical for mental health and preventing suicide, which is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. But medications used to treat depression don’t work right away. It can take several weeks for a person to start to feel better on antidepressants. This frequently causes people struggling with depression to become discouraged during treatment.

Please continue reading to learn how long it takes pharmaceutical therapy to relieve depression. Also, find out why it takes antidepressants so long to work and what other treatment options can offer faster relief.

How long do antidepressants take to work?

Most patients get some improvement in their symptoms of depression about 1 to 2 weeks after starting antidepressant medicine. However, the first drug that is tried often does not lead to significant improvement in depression symptoms. Therefore, it can take a bit of trial and error to identify the antidepressant medicine that works for you.

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How long after taking antidepressants will I feel better?

Generally speaking, you should start to feel better within 4 to 6 weeks and obtain maximum benefit 2 to 3 months after starting antidepressant use. With that said, a person’s response to a specific medicine cannot be predicted. Suppose you do not show any improvement in symptoms of depression after 6 weeks. In that case, your psychiatrist or doctor may change the dose of the drug, switch you to another antidepressant, or add other treatments such as therapy.

Why does it take so long for antidepressant medications to work?

Everyone is different. Some people may experience quick relief of symptoms, while others can take considerably longer to benefit from a drug. Many people do not respond to antidepressants at all. To understand why we need to have some background in how brain chemistry works.

The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs (examples include Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil). These medications work by increasing the amount of serotonin available in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is a mood elevator. SSRIs prevent the reuptake or transport of serotonin back into the neurons. These medicines take so long to work because they inactivate not only the individual serotonin transporters in brain cells but also the genes that code for making the transporters. In this way, over time, SSRIs lead to fewer serotonin transporters in the brain, thus making more serotonin available.

Different people respond differently to antidepressants because each person’s gene expression of the serotonin transporter varies. The response to antidepressants is also affected by other factors such as an individual’s metabolism rate, liver function, age, sex, and nutritional status.

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Can antidepressants work immediately?

Antidepressants will not work immediately. Most patients start to feel better about 6 weeks after starting treatment with antidepressants. It takes this much time for the drug to build up in the body. Your psychiatrist or doctor may increase the dose during this time, depending on your response. It’s important to understand this before starting antidepressants so that you don’t feel discouraged.

If you need faster relief of symptoms, especially if you have anxiety and depression, your doctor may prescribe short-term treatment with medications such as benzodiazepines (examples include Valium, Ativan, Klonopin). These medicines can provide relief much faster than SSRIs or other antidepressants. However, caution is advised because benzodiazepines can be habit-forming (there is a risk of addiction). You should talk to your doctor about safer alternatives for faster relief of depressive symptoms, such as propranolol (Inderal) or hydroxyzine (Vistaril).

What works faster - tricyclic antidepressants TCAs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors SSRIs?

There are several different classes of antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and others. Some of these antidepressants work by affecting serotonin, while others affect serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain. Different types of antidepressants can take different amounts of time to work.

Some of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants include SSRIs (Prozac, Zoloft) and SNRIs (Effexor, Cymbalta). These types of antidepressants take about 2 weeks to begin working and produce a full effect in around 2 months. However, tricyclic antidepressants are less selective than the other two classes of drugs, i.e., they affect more body systems and cause more side effects.

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What if I don’t improve on an antidepressant?

As noted above, antidepressants don’t work right away. In someone with mild depression, the effects of the medication may be felt faster. More severe depression can take longer to respond. It could be that you don’t improve even after you take an antidepressant for a few weeks. Don’t let this dishearten you. And don’t stop taking your medicine without consulting your doctor. Just because one medicine didn’t work doesn’t mean your depression is not treatable. It requires patience. Some people may need to change to another medicine because of intolerable side effects from a specific drug. You will need to work with your doctor to figure out what medicine effectively relieves your symptoms without causing side effects.

If you have not experienced relief of depressive symptoms with a particular medicine, your doctor may increase the dose of your medicine, combine it with another medicine, change you to another antidepressant, or recommend starting concurrent psychotherapy or other treatments for depression.

How long does it take to treat depression with medication?

Antidepressants are not designed to provide only short-term relief from depression symptoms. They also prevent future episodes of depression. An untreated episode of major depression can last for around 6 months and has a high chance of recurrence. For this reason, treatment with antidepressants is usually continued for 6 to 12 months, even after obtaining symptom relief. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may continue treatment for 3 years or longer.

It is important not to stop treatment as soon as you start feeling better. There is a high chance that your depressive symptoms will return if you discontinue your medication before your doctor says so. To obtain maximum benefits for your mental health, you should take the medication as prescribed. Discuss coming off the medication with your doctor when you feel ready. Your doctor will gradually reduce the dose of your antidepressant medication. This is to prevent unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that can occur if you stop taking the medication suddenly.

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Talk to your doctor about depression treatment

If you have depression symptoms, it is important to be medically reviewed and treated. Taking an antidepressant could be critical for your mental health. You should follow your doctor’s advice, diagnosis, or treatment for depression. As noted, it may take 4-6 weeks for antidepressants to start working. Complete benefit can take 2-3 months. If you don’t get relief with the first drug you try, you may find that switching to another type of antidepressant does the trick.

Keep in mind also that antidepressant medications work best when used in combination with psychotherapy. With a multi-pronged treatment plan in place, your depressive symptoms have a very good chance of improving.

References:

1. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2671413

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2. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm

FAQs

Can antidepressants work immediately? ›

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.

How long does it take to feel better after taking antidepressants? ›

Antidepressants may start to work within as little as two weeks, but it can take several weeks (up to 14 weeks) before you start to see benefits from an antidepressant. (2) Many people can start to lose hope when they start taking antidepressants and expect to feel happy within a few days.

How do you know antidepressant is working? ›

How do I know if my antidepressant works? When you start taking an antidepressant, you should begin to function better in your daily life before you start feeling better, says Dr. Michael McGee. In other words, you should begin sleeping better, eating better, and having more energy.

What does it feel like when antidepressants start working? ›

According to Pennsylvania-based psychiatrist Thomas Wind, D.O., you may feel some benefits sooner. “[Patients] tend to feel a little more energy, sometimes they sleep better and sometimes their appetite improves and that happens usually within the first two weeks,” Dr.

How do antidepressants make you feel when you first take them? ›

Signs and symptoms such as nausea, weight gain or sleep problems can be common initially. For many people, these improve within weeks of starting an antidepressant. In some cases, however, antidepressants cause side effects that don't go away.

Can you feel antidepressants on the first day? ›

1 Day – On the first day of taking an antidepressant medication, most people will feel nothing at all. Some will notice side effects like nausea or vomiting that could be mild. 1 Week – One week in, people are more likely to note some other side effects like sleeping problems, diarrhea, dry mouth, and sexual problems.

Is it OK to take antidepressants for life? ›

And luckily, as long as the benefits of the medication outweigh the potential side effects, there's no strong evidence that long-term use of SSRIs poses any major problems. “These medications have been around for decades,” says Dr. Jin Hee Yoon-Hudman, a psychiatrist and medical advisor at Minded.

Can antidepressants make you more depressed at first? ›

Starting an antidepressant can't actually make your depression worse. But it can cause side effects that are very similar to depression. Antidepressants can make you feel tired, cause concentration problems, and lead to changes in sleep and appetite.

How is life after antidepressants? ›

Discontinuation symptoms often include physical complaints that aren't commonly found in depression, such as dizziness, flulike symptoms, and abnormal sensations. Discontinuation symptoms disappear quickly if you take a dose of the antidepressant, while drug treatment of depression itself takes weeks to work.

Does your brain go back to normal after antidepressants? ›

If the symptoms develop later or gradually, they may constitute a relapse of the depression. Ultimately, these withdrawal symptoms will improve with time, but they can be unpleasant for days and possibly even weeks. In time, the brain readjusts and people should experience a return to their normal state.

Do antidepressants make you feel normal? ›

Fact: When taken correctly, antidepressants will not change your personality. They will help you feel like yourself again and return to your previous level of functioning.

How do you know if you should be put on antidepressants? ›

So, when should I take an antidepressant? If your depression or anxiety is mild to moderate, and if time and a talking treatment have not helped, and especially if things are getting worse, then you should consider taking an antidepressant.

What do antidepressants do to a normal person? ›

Antidepressants reduce symptoms of depression by balancing chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters, which affect mood and emotions, particularly dopamine and serotonin. These depression medications can improve your mood, concentration, sleep, and increase your appetite.

Is it normal to feel worse when starting an antidepressant? ›

When you start an antidepressant medicine, you may feel worse before you feel better. This is because the side effects often happen before your symptoms improve. Remember: Over time, many of the side effects of the medicine go down and the benefits increase.

Why do I feel different after taking antidepressants? ›

Antidepressants help by adjusting the neurochemical signaling in the brain. This change helps to reduce depression, but since these same brain chemicals are related to other mental health conditions, people could find themselves feeling more stress, more anxiety, and more panic from the antidepressant.

What shouldn't you take with antidepressants? ›

What Not to Mix with Antidepressants
  • Cocaine. Taking cocaine and antidepressants can interfere with your medication's ability to balance the levels of neurotransmitters in your brain, making them ineffective and possibly worsening your symptoms. ...
  • Alcohol. ...
  • MDMA. ...
  • Cough Medications.
3 Jan 2022

Why do antidepressants make you worse before better? ›

SSRIs release two chemicals in the brain that kick in at different times, causing a period of negative effects on mental health, the authors report. The first chemical is serotonin, which is released very soon after an SSRI is taken but might not lessen depressive symptoms until after a couple of weeks.

How long does the average person stay on antidepressants? ›

A course of treatment usually lasts for at least 6 months after you start to feel better. Some people with recurrent depression may be advised to take them indefinitely. Read more about antidepressant dosages.

What counts as a depressive episode? ›

Although depression may occur only once during your life, people typically have multiple episodes. During these episodes, symptoms occur most of the day, nearly every day and may include: Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness. Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters.

How long can I stay on antidepressants? ›

It's usually recommended that a course of antidepressants continues for at least 6 months after you feel better, to prevent your condition recurring when you stop. Some people with recurrent illness are advised to carry on taking medicine indefinitely.

What is the most common trigger for first episode of depression? ›

The most common trigger of depression is loss, which takes many different forms, including economic misfortune, unexpected unemployment and the loss of cherished possessions.

Do antidepressants make you happy or numb? ›

On antidepressant medication, it is possible that you might experience a sense of feeling numb and less like yourself. Though the symptoms of depression have decreased, there may be a sense that other emotional responses – laughing or crying, for example – are more difficult to experience.

Can you have a depressive episode while on antidepressants? ›

Depression relapses can happen at any time, even if you're already receiving treatment or are on medication for depression. It's like any other condition — if you have it once, you may be predisposed to it and are more likely to experience it again.

Do antidepressants change you forever? ›

Some believe it is unlikely that antidepressants cause any permanent changes to brain chemistry in the long-term. Evidence seems to indicate that these medications cause brain changes which only persist whilst the medication is being taken, or in the weeks following withdrawal.

What happens if you take antidepressants for years? ›

Those who had used antidepressants for >3 years reported more severe side effects, including “weight gain”, “addiction”, “feeling not like myself ”, “withdrawal symptoms”, and “suicidality”, than those who had been on antidepressants for ≤2 years.

Does depression change your brain forever? ›

A depression not only makes a person feel sad and dejected – it can also damage the brain permanently, so the person has difficulties remembering and concentrating once the disease is over. Up to 20 percent of depression patients never make a full recovery.

What is emotional blunting? ›

Emotional blunting is a term sometimes used to describe a person's limited emotional reactivity. They may not even be experiencing any emotions to feel, and people with emotional blunting may report feeling an unpleasant numbness instead of emotions. There are many reasons a person might experience emotional blunting.

Why do you get brain zaps when coming off antidepressants? ›

SSRIs increase the amount of serotonin that's available in the brain. This lead some experts to theorize that low serotonin levels caused by discontinuing the use of SSRIs are to blame for brain shakes.

What is the number 1 prescribed antidepressant? ›

Sertraline hydrochloride, used for multiple mental health and mood disorders, is the most prescribed antidepressant on the list with more than 18 million prescriptions in 2021.

What is the most popular drug for depression? ›

The most commonly prescribed ones include:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most prescribed type of antidepressant and include: Fluoxetine. Citalopram. Sertraline.

Are people happier on antidepressants? ›

The majority of people taking the most commonly prescribed antidepressants—selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)—improve substantially. But sometimes, SSRIs go beyond improving mood and make a person feel too little emotion.

Are people who take antidepressants weak? ›

The truth is that depression, or taking antidepressants, is not a sign of weakness because "psychological disorders don't discriminate and can affect all people", says Dr Lakra. "Many [of those affected] are high achievers."

Why do people stay on antidepressants? ›

Many people with depression continue taking antidepressant drugs for months or even years after their symptoms have resolved. This so-called maintenance therapy aims to reduce the risk of relapse. The numbers of people taking maintenance therapy for depression is increasing.

Do antidepressants make you feel worse to start with? ›

There's a paradoxical period when a person first starts an antidepressant: they may actually begin to feel worse before feeling better. The underlying cause of this phenomenon is a bit of a mystery, but a new study from researchers at Otto-von-Guericke University in Germany explains why this might occur.

How much better do you feel on antidepressants? ›

Feeling Better

In studies of antidepressants, between 40 and 60 people out of 100 noticed an improvement in their symptoms, compared to 20 to 40 people who felt better by taking a placebo. As a result, depression is often treated with a combination of behavioral therapies and medication.

Should you be ashamed to take antidepressants? ›

Taking medicine for your depression can help you get your life back to normal, especially if you also get counselling. But if your symptoms are mild, lifestyle changes and counselling may be all you need. You don't need to be ashamed about taking antidepressants.

Are antidepressants worth it? ›

Antidepressants can also relieve long-term symptoms of chronic depressive disorder (dysthymia) and chronic depression, and help make them go away completely. An antidepressant can already have an effect within one or two weeks. But it may take longer for the symptoms to improve.

How do I know if I need depression medication? ›

So, when should I take an antidepressant? If your depression or anxiety is mild to moderate, and if time and a talking treatment have not helped, and especially if things are getting worse, then you should consider taking an antidepressant.

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