What You Should Know Before Taking Antidepressants

African American businesswoman with natural hairMedication can help millions of people who struggle with depression, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Depression affects some 350 million people worldwide. It’s a serious illness and a major cause of disability. But its symptoms can be mistaken for other health issues and some people are afraid to seek help, the FDA said.

Not everyone with depression needs medicine, the agency said. But drugs used to treat it — antidepressants — can help ease symptoms, such as:

  • Depressed mood,
  • Loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities,
  • Changes in appetite or weight,
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much,
  • Loss of energy or fatigue,
  • Restlessness,
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt,
  • Problems thinking, focusing or making decisions,
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

Doctors consider these symptoms — as well as a patient’s medical history, behavior and mental status — to diagnose depression and rule out other health issues, including thyroid disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Doctors should also evaluate patients for bipolar disorder, which can cause major mood swings. Giving antidepressants to someone with bipolar disorder could lead to psychosis, according to the FDA.

Antidepressants help treat depression by changing brain chemicals called neurotransmitters — such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine — that help regulate mood.