Types of Anti-Depressant


Anti-depressants are medications that are prescribed by a doctor, usually a GP or psychiatrist.  Their purpose is to reduce the symptoms of depression and may be used alongside talking therapy.  There are several different types of anti-depressants, and this article is intended as a guide to the facts about each type.



These were developed in the 1950s and are no longer commonly used, due to the existence of newer, safer medications.  As well as depression, these can also be used to treat anxiety, OCD and PTSD.  They are used particularly for treatment-resistant depression, where the patient has also not responded to therapy.

Tricyclics work as serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, block both serotonin and norepinephrine transporters, which increases the level of these in the brain.

Side effects of tricyclics include drowsiness, restlessness and nausea.   In overdose they can affect the heart and nervous system, and are very dangerous compared to newer anti-depressants.

Examples of tricyclics include amitriptyline, clomipramine and lofepramine.


Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

MAOIs were first used in the 1950s and can be prescribed as an anti-depressant, as well as to patients with anxiety, agoraphobia and PTSD.  They can also be used by patients with Parkinson’s Disease.

MAOIs inhibit monoamine oxidase activity, as the name suggests, increasing the amount of monoamine in the brain.  Some types of this medication also increases the amount of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, while others increase the levels of dopamine and phinethylamine.

Some foods need to be avoided when taking MAOIs, due to their interaction with the medication.  This includes cheese, liver and alcohol.

Examples of MOAIs include brofaromine, minaprine and pargyline.


Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs are used as a treatment for depression, anxiety and some personality disorders.

They work by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, therefore increasing its level in the brain.  They are the type of anti-depressant most commonly used in many countries.

Side effects of SSRIs occur mostly in the first few weeks of taking it, with the anti-depressant effect potentially taking several weeks longer.  The side effects include headaches, nausea, insomnia, weight gain or loss and suicidal thoughts.

Examples of SSRIs are fluoxetine, citalopram and paroxetine.


Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs are used to treat depression, anxiety, OCD and ADHD.  They prevent the reuptake of serotonin and noradrenaline, increasing the amount of them in the brain.

Side effects of these medications can include loss of appetite, drowsiness and dizziness.

Examples of SNRIs are venlafaxine and duloxetine.


Anti-depressants must always be taken as prescribed.  They can take several weeks to start working and must not be stopped suddenly, because of the withdrawal effects.  It is also important to remember that finding the right medication is, in the case of depression, a case of trial and error.  Just because one has no effect does not meant that another one won’t.