Neurotransmitters (norepinephrin and serotonin), located in our brains, are responsible for normal brain function. They are also responsible for mood and functions such as sleep, eating, pain and thought processes. Most anti-depressants act to increase serotonin and norepinephrin in the brain, chemicals that may be lacking in depressed individuals.
Antidepressants are believed to increase the neurotransmitters, norepinephrin and serotonin, in the brain. But, there is no way to prove this. Scientists have no way to measure the levels of these neurotransmitters in the brain. This makes it hard to say whether antidepressants really work.
According to a meta-analysis of previous studies of antidepressants versus placebo, it was shown that the effects of antidepressants were the same as with placebos in mild to moderate depression. The patients in the studies appeared to be improving due to the frequent doctors visits and attention that they wouldn’t have received outside the study regardless of whether they were taking an antidepressant or a placebo.
Knowing all of this, how can we tell if antidepressants are effective? It may be dependant on the severity of the depression:
The affect of antidepressants for mild depression:
For people suffering with mild depression, studies show that antidepressants may not be that affective. Other modes of treatment such as counseling, exercise and stress reduction may be just as affective as an antidepressant. However, some people do feel that the antidepressant is affective for their depression and so, should not stop taking them.
Antidepressants for moderate depression:
Moderately depressed people may be effectively treated with antidepressants. But again, it depends on the person. No two cases of depression are exactly alike and antidepressants may act differently for different people. Moderate depression treated with a combination of antidepressants, psychotherapy and lifestyle changes seem to be most affective for moderate depression.
Antidepressants may be affective for severe depression:
For severe depression, it has been shown that antidepressants have been the most helpful. Antidepressants may not cure severe depression, but they may decrease the level of depression so that the depressed person can actively participate in his care and his life.
Antidepressants are still considered the treatment of choice for persons who are depressed. And, no matter what the studies show, antidepressants appear to decrease the symptoms in severe depression enough so the depressed person may take a more active role in further treatment of his depression.
Antidepressant action may take up to four weeks to benefit the depressed person. If you are suffering from depression, whether it be mild or severe, and are on an antidepressant medication, do not stop taking this medication without the advice of your doctor.