Medication for Depression in Adults

NYU Langone psychiatrists often prescribe medication to manage depression as well as coexisting mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Our experts choose a medication based on your symptoms.

Depending on your symptoms and response to treatment, medication can be a short or long term treatment option. Often, medication is used in conjunction with behavioral therapy or psychotherapy. A medication consultation with an NYU Langone psychiatrist enables you to ask questions about your treatment and discuss any concerns.


The most common medications used to manage depression are a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.

These medications work by increasing levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which regulates mood, appetite, and sleep. Increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain improves communication between nerve cells, leading to improved mood and lowered levels of anxiety. It can take up to 12 weeks for SSRIs to take full effect.

Commonly prescribed SSRIs include sertraline and citalopram. Side effects may include insomnia, anxiety, nausea, sexual dysfunction, and diarrhea.

If an SSRI does not manage your symptoms of depression, the doctor may recommend a medication from a class of antidepressants called serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. These medications may be helpful for people with depression-related fatigue or pain.

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors appear to improve communication between nerve cells by making more of the chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine available in the brain. This helps to boost your mood.

Commonly prescribed serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors include venlafaxine and duloxetine. Side effects may include dry mouth, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, sexual dysfunction, and insomnia.

Medications known as atypical antidepressants may also be prescribed to manage depression in adults. They are often used in combination with other medications in people who have depression that is difficult to manage.

Atypical antidepressants include bupropion and mirtazapine. Side effects of these medications may include dizziness, drowsiness, and headaches.

Atypical Antipsychotics

A class of medications called atypical antipsychotics can help to relieve symptoms of depression in people who do not respond to antidepressant medication alone. These medications, which include quetiapine and aripiprazole, are prescribed because they have a lower risk of serious side effects than conventional antipsychotic medications.

Side effects of atypical antipsychotics may include weight gain, tremors, and involuntary and repetitive movements. Atypical antipsychotics are often taken in combination with an antidepressant on a daily basis.

Atypical antipsychotic medications can alter a person’s metabolism, increasing the risk of diabetes and high cholesterol. People who take these medications must have their weight, blood sugar, and lipid cholesterol levels monitored regularly to avoid serious complications.

More Depression in Adults Resources

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