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Antidepressants are medicines that can reduce depressive problems (and some other problems, such as anxiety). Antidepressants usually come in the form of pills, or sometimes in liquid form.

Antidepressants affect certain brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters, mainly serotonin and noradrenaline) that are thought to be involved in regulating mood and emotions. In the past, some psychiatrists suggested that a shortage of these neurotransmitters may come with depression and anxiety problems. However, this has never been proven. In fact, to what degree depression is really linked to brain neurochemistry is anybody’s guess. Depression is related to social circumstances, mental processes, existential issues and somatic problems. Multiple factors seem to play a part and it is unlikely that “depression” is a well circumscribed type of illness. Rather, it seems to refer to a very personal negative state of mind that is different for each person.

Antidepressants can help, but not cure you

Antidepressants are not a cure in the sense that they can fix the cause of your depression. That’s not even possible, because depression rarely has a single cause, let alone a single biological one. It is better to think of antidepressants as a little support that relieve you from the strongest negative effects. They can reduce your problems, and thus give you the energy again to work on other aspects of your life and slowly crawl out of the depression. This is why antidepressants are often prescribed together with running therapy, mindfulness or psychotherapy aimed at the underlying causes of your problems like trauma, low self-esteem or perfectionism.

Extra information:

More information on specific antidepressants can be found at (in English and Spanish).

Prof. dr. Jim van OsChair Division Neuroscience, Utrecht University Medical Centre. Jim is also Visiting Professor of Psychiatric Epidemiology at the Institute of Psychiatry in London. Jim works at the interface of ‘hard’ brain science, health services research, art and subjective experiences of people with ‘lived experience’ in mental healthcare. 

Jim has been appearing on the Thomson-Reuter Web of Science list of ‘most influential scientific minds of our time’ since 2014. In 2014 he published his book ‘Beyond DSM-5‘, and in 2016 the book ‘Good Mental Health Care’. 

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