Medically Reviewed

Picture of Jack Maroney, MSHCA, LADC1

Jack Maroney, MSHCA, LADC1

Depression medications have enabled millions of people to live much healthier and more satisfying lives. Though these drugs are often commonly referred to by the general term “antidepressants,” there are actually several different types that function in distinct ways. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, we can help. At Arbor Wellness, our depression treatment in Nashville can help you create new pathways in your life. We help clients find the right depression medication that works for them, if appropriate.

You are not alone. You deserve to get help.

Arbor Wellness is an industry leader in mental health treatment. Our team of top medical experts specialize in dual diagnosis treatment and are committed to ensuring that each patient is treated as an individual. Call us today, we’re available 24/7.

Most Common Depression Medications

Individuals with depressive disorders have a wide range of medication options to help ease the symptoms that have been negatively impacting their life. 

Most depression medications fall into one of five categories: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), atypical antidepressants, tricyclic antidepressants, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).


SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are some of the most frequently prescribed antidepressants in the United States. When fluoxetine (Prozac) earned approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1987, this marked a milestone moment in the history of depression medication.

Prior to the development of SSRIs, most people who used depression medication took either tricyclics or monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). As we will discuss in greater detail later in this post, these medications offered limited effectiveness and often caused significant side effects.

In addition to fluoxetine (Prozac), the following are examples of other commonly prescribed SSRIs and mental health medications:

SSRIs work by preventing neurons in the central nervous system (CNS) from reabsorbing a neurotransmitter called serotonin. 

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that deliver messages from the brain to various points in the body. Serotonin is associated with a variety of functions that can be impacted by depression, such as mood, sleep, and sexual desire. 

Here’s a quick overview of how SSRIs can help people who have depression:

  • Typically, serotonin is released into the synapse that separates one neuron from another. 
  • Once the serotonin delivers its message, it is returned to the originating neuron, which absorbs it so that it can be used again. 
  • SSRIs prevent this reabsorption (or reuptake) from occurring, which leads to higher levels of serotonin throughout the CNS. 
  • For some people, this increase in serotonin can boost their mood and alleviate other symptoms of depressive disorders.


Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, or SNRIs, began to appear in U.S. pharmacies in 1993, following the FDA’s approval of venlafaxine (Effexor). Today, the list of commonly prescribed SNRIs also includes:

  • Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
  • Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
  • Milnacipran (Savella) 
  • Levomilnacipran (Fetzima)

SNRIs function in a manner similar to SSRIs, though (as their full name indicates) they don’t focus solely on serotonin. SNRIs also prevent neurons from reabsorbing norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that is also sometimes referred to as noradrenaline. This chemical is closely associated with the body’s “fight or flight” response when confronted with a perceived threat.

Functions that are affected by norepinephrine include alertness, arousal, mood, memory, and the sleep/wake cycle.

Atypical Antidepressants

The category of atypical antidepressants contains a variety of depression medications that don’t fit into one of the four other classifications in this post. Since this is a bit of a catch-all category, it contains more variety in terms of how these medications interact with the body.

The following are examples of commonly prescribed atypical antidepressants:

  • Bupropion (Wellbutrin) blocks CNS receptors that would otherwise reabsorb norepinephrine and dopamine (a neurotransmitter that is linked with pleasure and motivation).
  • Trazodone (Desyrel) promotes increased levels of serotonin and noradrenaline. Though this is similar to what SNRIs do, trazodone accomplishes it in a different manner. This medication is also described as a serotonin agonist and reuptake inhibitory (SARI).
  • Vortioxetine (Trintellix) binds to serotonin transmitters, which promotes elevated serotonin levels in a different manner than SSRIs do.

Mirtazapine (Remeron) is sometimes described as a noradrenergic and specific serotonergic antidepressant (NaSSA). It promotes activity within the sympathetic nervous system, which is the network that is involved with the “fight or flight” response.


Tricyclics were once among the most frequently prescribed antidepressants. Today, most people who have depression will not be prescribed a tricyclic until they have tried a variety of the other depression medications described in this post. 

Tricyclic antidepressants interact with five separate neurotransmitter pathways in the CNS, which can lead to a boost in serotonin and norepinephrine. However, they also pose a risk for several unpleasant side effects, including dizziness, confusion, blurred vision, constipation, dry mouth, and tachycardia (racing heart rate).


Most physicians will not prescribe a monoamine oxidase inhibitor until they have exhausted all other pharmacological options for treating a patient’s depression. This is due both to their potential for significant side effects as well as their risk for problematic interactions with certain foods and some other medications.

People who take MAOIs must follow a strict diet plan, which includes avoiding several types of meat and fish and certain cheeses and beans. Failing to do so can result in a sudden spike in blood pressure, which could potentially cause a cerebral hemorrhage. 

Taking an MAOI along with an SSRI or certain other medications can cause a potentially fatal reaction called serotonin syndrome.

Find Depression Treatment in Nashville

If you or someone in your family has developed a depressive disorder, Arbor Wellness may have the solutions you are seeking. Our depression treatment center in Nashville, Tennessee, is a safe and welcoming place where you can make sustained progress toward a much healthier and more hopeful future.

In addition to identifying the most effective depression medications for you, our team of experienced professionals can also provide an array of customizable therapies and other services to minimize the impact of your depression symptoms and improve your quality of life. Depending on the nature and severity of your needs, you can receive focused care and close personal support at the residential, partial hospitalization, and/or intensive outpatient levels.

To learn more about how we can help you or your loved one, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call our center today.

Don’t hesitate to contact us immediately. In the case of a medical emergency please contact 911 or visit your local emergency department.

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