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How Long Does it Take for Depression Medication to Work?

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It is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans will experience a major depressive episode at some point in their life. Roughly 1 in 10 adults in the United States has had moderate to severe depression symptoms within the past year. For individuals who are living with depression, antidepressant medications can give substantial relief from depressive symptoms. 

Treating depression symptoms is critical for mental health and preventing suicide, which is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. But medications used to treat depression don’t work right away. It can take several weeks for a person to start to feel better on antidepressants. This frequently causes people struggling with depression to become discouraged during treatment. 

Please continue reading to learn how long it takes pharmaceutical therapy to relieve depression. Also, find out why it takes antidepressants so long to work and what other treatment options can offer faster relief.

How long do antidepressants take to work?

Most patients get some improvement in their symptoms of depression about 1 to 2 weeks after starting antidepressant medicine. However, the first drug that is tried often does not lead to significant improvement in depression symptoms. Therefore, it can take a bit of trial and error to identify the antidepressant medicine that works for you. 

How long after taking antidepressants will I feel better?

Generally speaking, you should start to feel better within 4 to 6 weeks and obtain maximum benefit 2 to 3 months after starting antidepressant use. With that said, a person’s response to a specific medicine cannot be predicted. Suppose you do not show any improvement in symptoms of depression after 6 weeks. In that case, your psychiatrist or doctor may change the dose of the drug, switch you to another antidepressant, or add other treatments such as therapy.

Why does it take so long for antidepressant medications to work?

Everyone is different. Some people may experience quick relief of symptoms, while others can take considerably longer to benefit from a drug. Many people do not respond to antidepressants at all. To understand why we need to have some background in how brain chemistry works. 

The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs (examples include Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil). These medications work by increasing the amount of serotonin available in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is a mood elevator. SSRIs prevent the reuptake or transport of serotonin back into the neurons. These medicines take so long to work because they inactivate not only the individual serotonin transporters in brain cells but also the genes that code for making the transporters. In this way, over time, SSRIs lead to fewer serotonin transporters in the brain, thus making more serotonin available. 

Different people respond differently to antidepressants because each person’s gene expression of the serotonin transporter varies. The response to antidepressants is also affected by other factors such as an individual’s metabolism rate, liver function, age, sex, and nutritional status.

Can antidepressants work immediately?

Antidepressants will not work immediately. Most patients start to feel better about 6 weeks after starting treatment with antidepressants. It takes this much time for the drug to build up in the body. Your psychiatrist or doctor may increase the dose during this time, depending on your response. It’s important to understand this before starting antidepressants so that you don’t feel discouraged. 

If you need faster relief of symptoms, especially if you have anxiety and depression, your doctor may prescribe short-term treatment with medications such as benzodiazepines (examples include Valium, Ativan, Klonopin). These medicines can provide relief much faster than SSRIs or other antidepressants. However, caution is advised because benzodiazepines can be habit-forming (there is a risk of addiction). You should talk to your doctor about safer alternatives for faster relief of depressive symptoms, such as propranolol (Inderal) or hydroxyzine (Vistaril). 

What works faster - tricyclic antidepressants TCAs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors SSRIs?

There are several different classes of antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and others. Some of these antidepressants work by affecting serotonin, while others affect serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain. Different types of antidepressants can take different amounts of time to work. 

Some of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants include SSRIs (Prozac, Zoloft) and SNRIs (Effexor, Cymbalta). These types of antidepressants take about 2 weeks to begin working and produce a full effect in around 2 months. However, tricyclic antidepressants are less selective than the other two classes of drugs, i.e., they affect more body systems and cause more side effects. 

What if I don’t improve on an antidepressant?

As noted above, antidepressants don’t work right away. In someone with mild depression, the effects of the medication may be felt faster. More severe depression can take longer to respond. It could be that you don’t improve even after you take an antidepressant for a few weeks. Don’t let this dishearten you. And don’t stop taking your medicine without consulting your doctor. Just because one medicine didn’t work doesn’t mean your depression is not treatable. It requires patience. Some people may need to change to another medicine because of intolerable side effects from a specific drug. You will need to work with your doctor to figure out what medicine effectively relieves your symptoms without causing side effects.

If you have not experienced relief of depressive symptoms with a particular medicine, your doctor may increase the dose of your medicine, combine it with another medicine, change you to another antidepressant, or recommend starting concurrent psychotherapy or other treatments for depression.

How long does it take to treat depression with medication? 

Antidepressants are not designed to provide only short-term relief from depression symptoms. They also prevent future episodes of depression. An untreated episode of major depression can last for around 6 months and has a high chance of recurrence. For this reason, treatment with antidepressants is usually continued for 6 to 12 months, even after obtaining symptom relief. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may continue treatment for 3 years or longer.

It is important not to stop treatment as soon as you start feeling better. There is a high chance that your depressive symptoms will return if you discontinue your medication before your doctor says so. To obtain maximum benefits for your mental health, you should take the medication as prescribed. Discuss coming off the medication with your doctor when you feel ready. Your doctor will gradually reduce the dose of your antidepressant medication. This is to prevent unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that can occur if you stop taking the medication suddenly.

Talk to your doctor about depression treatment

If you have depression symptoms, it is important to be medically reviewed and treated. Taking an antidepressant could be critical for your mental health. You should follow your doctor’s advice, diagnosis, or treatment for depression. As noted, it may take 4-6 weeks for antidepressants to start working. Complete benefit can take 2-3 months. If you don’t get relief with the first drug you try, you may find that switching to another type of antidepressant does the trick.

Keep in mind also that antidepressant medications work best when used in combination with psychotherapy. With a multi-pronged treatment plan in place, your depressive symptoms have a very good chance of improving.



1. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2671413

2. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm