Depression affects roughly 3 million people in the U.S. While many people think that depression is just a prolonged case of “the blues,” it is much more than that.

The American Psychological Association reports that more than 12 percent of the American population over age 12 has taken antidepressants in the past year. Also, more Americans who are older are taking these medications than before. There’s also been an increase in the number of younger people who are taking antidepressants.

As there are millions of people prescribed antidepressant medications, there are also millions of people who report that they are just as, if not, more depressed when taking the drugs that are tasked with alleviating it.

Can antidepressants make you more depressed? It depends.

Antidepressants And Their Effects

Antidepressants are drugs that can help relieve symptoms of depression, seasonal affective disorder, social anxiety disorder, anxiety disorders, and other conditions.

Research has led us to believe that good results from antidepressants originate on how they affect specific brain circuits and chemicals that are passed along the signals from one nerve cell to another in the brain. Antidepressants work differently with each of the brain’s chemicals, which are serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

Several different types of antidepressants can be prescribed.

SNRIs: Serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors are prescribed to treat major depression, mood disorders, and other conditions, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety disorders, menopausal symptoms, fibromyalgia, and chronic neuropathic pain.

SNRIs raise the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. These are two neurotransmitters in the brain that play key roles in mood stabilization. A few widely known brands of SNRIs are Cymbalta, Effexor, and Pristiq.

SSRIs: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are the more commonly used antidepressants. They work well for most people and have fewer side effects than SNRIs.

SSRIs block the reuptake, or absorption, of serotonin in the brain. This makes it easier for brain cells to receive and send messages, resulting in better and more stable moods.

NDRIs: Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors are another class of reuptake inhibitors. There is only one drug bupropion (Wellbutrin) prescribed. It blocks specific transporter proteins, thus increasing the amount of reuptake of norepinephrine and dopamine neurotransmitters in the brain. Bupropion is a widely known medication with good results for most people.

Other antidepressants such as benzodiazepines, serotonin antagonist reuptake inhibitors (SARIs), and others are less prescribed. These usually produce unpleasant side effects and can be more addictive than the above.

Reasons Why Antidepressants May Stop Working

There are several reasons why antidepressants can stop working. In an article from the Mayo Clinic, a medical expert answers the question: “However, in some people, a particular antidepressant may simply stop working over time. Doctors don’t fully understand what causes the so-called ‘poop-out’ effect or antidepressant tolerance — known as tachyphylaxis — or why it occurs in some people and not in others.”

There are other reasons why antidepressants may stop working:

The depression becomes worse. This is called breakthrough depression. Its symptoms can be triggered by stress or appear with no apparent cause. The current medication someone is taking may not be enough to prevent the symptoms when the depression becomes worse.

Various medical conditions. Health issues like hypothyroidism can cause or worsen depression. Major medical conditions, such as cancer, may worsen it.

Other medication. Some drugs can interfere with the way the body breaks down and uses antidepressants. This causes a change in how antidepressants work.

Age. Depression can become worse with age.  The older someone becomes may compel changes in the brain and in thinking.

Tolerance of the medication is one reason why someone could be just as or more depressed when taking the drug. Tolerance is a person’s reduced response to a drug, which happens when the drug is used continually, and the body adapts to the continued presence of the drug.

If someone is taking the same antidepressant for a long time, it may stop working, and the symptoms of depression may seem worse. It is best to seek the advice of a medical professional at this time. An adjustment in medication may be needed to relieve the symptoms of depression.

What Is Depression?

The National Institute of Mental Health defines depression, also called major depression, as “a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working.”

Symptoms Of Depression

The symptoms of depression must be present for two weeks before a diagnosis can be made. An individual may feel some of these symptoms for most of the day on nearly every day of the week.

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • No interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Aches, pains, cramps or digestive problems with no clear physical cause that cannot be resolved with treatment
  • Suicide attempts or suicide ideation

Summary

Depression strikes millions of people of all age groups in the U.S. and around the world. Despite the often misguided verbiage of being “down in the dumps,” “feeling blue” or just plain “down,” depression can and should be treated.

Antidepressants are beneficial in helping people manage depressive symptoms. However, they may not work as well as they once did if taken over a long time. It’s not uncommon for depression to continue.

If you think that the antidepressant(s) you or someone else is taking are causing more depression, call the prescribing doctor or medical professional to discuss an adjustment for the prescription.

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