Medication vocabulary

Knowing a bit more about the different types of medication can help you have an informed discussion with your doctor. You may need to try a few different types to find the right one for you.

Finding the right medication

There are a range of medications that doctors can prescribe to address depression and anxiety, with different pros and cons.

It may be a slow process to find the right medication and the right dosage for you. Antidepressant medications often need to be taken for several weeks before they take effect, although the side effects are noticeable sooner than this. It is important to be patient and give things a proper chance to work, but at the same time to communicate regularly with your doctor if you are not getting the expected benefit. Always consult the doctor if you want to stop taking the medication and do not withdraw abruptly.

Medication vocabulary

SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)
The newer antidepressants which are recommended for use in routine care of depression*. Generic names include fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline and fluvoxamine. Available under a variety of trade names, but the best known is Prozac (fluoxetine).

MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors)
Slightly older antidepressants which are sometimes used when the depression comes with a lot of anxiety. Certain foods have to be avoided to prevent severe reactions. Generic names include isocarboxazid, phenelyzine and tranylcypromine.

Older antidepressants which may have stronger side effects. Generic names include amitriptyline, clomipramine, dothiepine, imipramine and lofepramine.

Used to stabilise mood when the person has swings in mood between depression and mania, or sometimes given in addition to other antidepressants when other types of medication have not helped.

ECT (electroconvulsive therapy)
Electric shock administered under general anaesthetic. Only advised for rapid, short-term improvement for severe and life-threatening depression where other treatment options have not been effective.

St John’s wort
A natural remedy available without prescription which may be of benefit in mild or moderate depression. However, NHS guidelines are that it should not be prescribed nor its use advised because there is uncertainty about appropriate doses and it has potentially serious interactions with other drugs (including oral contraceptives, anticoagulants and anticonvulsants).

Beta blockers
Sometimes prescribed for anxiety.

Next: Other mental health services

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