Taking antidepressants is a major step for a lot of people who suffer from depression. There’s a lot of stigma against people with depression, and even more so against those who seek medicinal intervention in the form of medication. Because of the stigma, those who seek medication to help their depression are often uninformed about what antidepressants actually do.

Sometimes, they find that they aren’t working the way that they thought they should. When the medication doesn’t work, many people with depression are left wondering what their next step is. If you’ve tried taking antidepressants to help with your symptoms of depression and found that they aren’t working, here’s what you need to know.

Here Are 7 Things You Should Know If Antidepressants don’t work for you

“In an ideal world I guess we wouldn’t get sick at all, but we have to settle for the fact that we do. Therefore, the next best scenario is we get sick, we get diagnosed, we get medicated, we get well.” – Jerry Kennard

1. Antidepressants do not always work

Dr. Jennifer Payne states, “We have a vague understanding of how antidepressants work, but that doesn’t mean we totally understand the pharmacology. I don’t think anyone can offer a complete biological explanation for why antidepressants stop working. But I will say this: There are [factors] that can influence someone to relapse.”

According to research, at least one-third of people who seek medication don’t find relief from their depression symptoms. This may be hard to hear, but sometimes medication just doesn’t work when it comes to finding relief from depression. But once you know that, you’ll be better equipped to find relief in other ways. Luckily, medication isn’t the end all be all of the treatments for depression.


2. Science is still learning, whether you like it or not

Just because the medication isn’t working for you now doesn’t mean that it’ll never work for you. Science is still learning and coming up with new theories every day. They continue to research antidepressants and why current medications don’t seem to be working for those who take it. There’s new research every day focused on the best ways to find therapeutic relief to those suffering from depression.

3. It may not be depression, rather something different altogether

Psychology and mental health are fields that are highly subjective in many ways. This means that even though you may be experiencing all the symptoms of depression, that doesn’t mean that’s what you have. Other disorders can, and often do, show up as symptoms of depression – such as bipolar disorder and personality disorders. Depression can often be a symptom of something else, which may be why people don’t respond to antidepressants.

4. Brains can adapt and learn to tolerate

According to this study, “Antidepressant tachyphylaxis describes a condition in which a depressed patient loses a previously effective antidepressant treatment response despite staying on the same drug and dosage for maintenance treatment.”

But what does this mean in layman’s terms?

What most antidepressants do is increase your serotonin levels, which help combat most of the symptoms of depression and help you find relief. Sometimes, our brains adapt to the medication in ways that make it less effective. If you’ve been on medication that seemed to help for a while but is no longer doing the trick, it might be that your brain has adapted to the medication. Some things might help this, such as an increased dose of the medication or a switch to a different type of antidepressant.

5. Therapy helps to reduce depression if antidepressants don’t help

Many people forgo therapy because they feel like it doesn’t help, but psychotherapy is a tried and true method that can help depressive symptoms. The thing about therapy, however, is that it takes time, effort, and dedication on the part of both the patient and the therapist. It can take years to achieve the full benefits of psychotherapy, but there are no possible side effects from therapy the way there are with medication. Before pursuing medical intervention, it’s important to seek out therapy as the first line of combating depression.

6. Make sure you get enough sleep

According to Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein, “People who have problems with sleep are at increased risk for developing emotional disorders, depression, and anxiety.” Therefore, when you first start your antidepressants, you want to make sure that you’re getting the recommended amount of sleep. Lack of sleep can cause instability in mood, and it can also affect how well your antidepressants are working. If you find that your antidepressants aren’t working as they should, make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Studies find that patients who are getting the right amount of sleep have increased responses to antidepressant therapy.


7. Know your options

Antidepressants come in such a wide range of different options that a lot of people don’t know what could work best for them. They may try one type of antidepressant and find that it doesn’t work, so they give up entirely. If you find that you’re not responding well to one type of antidepressant, make sure to ask your doctor what other options there are. Antidepressants come in two main types, and you may respond better to one or the other. You also may need to add non-antidepressants that can help those medications work better, like a thyroid hormone or fish oil.

According to the chief of clinical psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Jonathan E. Alpert, MD, PhD, “The rate of what used to be called Prozac poop-out — the rate of relapse on an antidepressant — is about 30% over a one-year period.”

Depression is a serious mental illness that affects so many people. The stigma surrounding medication can make knowing how to deal with your depressive symptoms that much harder – and when the medication doesn’t work, you may be left wondering where to turn.

Thankfully, there’s so much about medication for depression that your doctor can help you understand. As long as you’re honest and thorough about how your depression is responding to the medication, your doctor will be able to help you find the right treatment for you – and who knows, the right treatment may not be medication at all!