A variety of antidepressant medications and psychotherapies are used to treat depression. The most effective treatment for most people is a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Many of us are aware that medications are available to treat depressive disorders—we see the ads on television and in magazines. Up to 70 percent of people with depression can be treated effectively with medication.
Medications used to treat depressive disorders usually act on the neurotransmission pathway. For example, some medications affect the activity of certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin or norepinephrine. Different depressive disorders require different medication therapies. For example, individuals who have bipolar disorder are often treated with a mood-stabilizing drug, such as lithium, during their manic phase and a combination of mood-stabilizer and antidepressant medications during their depressive phase.
Medications usually lead to relief from the symptoms of depression within six to eight weeks. If one drug doesn’t relieve symptoms, doctors can prescribe a different antidepressant drug. As with drugs to treat other mental illnesses, patients are monitored closely by their doctor for symptoms of depression and for side effects. Patients who continue to take their medication for at least six months after recovery from major depression are 70 percent less likely to experience a relapse. Psychotherapy helps patients learn more effective ways to deal with the problems in their lives. These therapies usually involve 6 to 20 weekly meetings. These treatment plans should be revised if there is no improvement of symptoms within three or four months.