How Do SSRIs Work?
Nerve cells in our brain use various chemicals to pass on impulses. SSRIs work by increasing the levels of a brain chemical called serotonin, which plays a key role in mood. The body naturally produces serotonin and keeps it at a certain level, but SSRIs can increase that level by blocking (inhibiting) the re-absorption (reuptake) of serotonin.
Who Should Take SSRIs?
SSRIs are usually the first choice for doctors treating depression or anxiety with prescription medications, but they’re not for everyone. It is normal to feel sad or “down” in the wake of stressful life events such as the death of a loved one, a job loss or a divorce. These feelings should ease or subside on their own. A person may be a candidate for antidepressants if they aren’t functioning well, if the symptoms last for several weeks without getting better, or if there is no apparent reason for the symptoms. This is especially true if you have a history of depression.
Can Children Take SSRIs?
Many SSRIs are only FDA approved for use in adults only, but some can treat depression in children and adolescents. Prozac (fluoxetine) is the only FDA-approved medication for treating depression in children 8 and older, while Lexapro (escitalopram) is approved for children 12 to 17. Prozac, Zoloft (sertraline) and Luvox (fluvoxamine maleate) are approved for use in children and adolescents for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Other SSRIs are not approved for use in children, but that does not mean a doctor can’t prescribe them as an off-label use for treating depression or anxiety disorders in patients under 18.
What Does The Treatment Involve?
SSRIs are usually taken daily. The goal is to ease or eliminate the symptoms within the first few weeks to months. Treatment duration depends on several factors, including the severity of the symptoms and how well each individual responds to treatments.
Most patients take SSRIs for several months, but some may require years of treatments. According to the CDC, 14 percent of Americans taking antidepressants have done so for 10 years or longer. The duration also depends on the chance of relapse. Patients with a history of depression or those going through a traumatic life event may experience a relapse of major depression. A relapse may also occur if a patient suddenly stops taking an SSRI (discontinuation) or if their dosage is significantly reduced.
What Is The Effectiveness of SSRIs?
It’s difficult to pinpoint the effectiveness of SSRIs since each individual and case is unique. Our bodies respond to medications in different ways. Doctors may end up prescribing a number of different SSRIs and dosage options before a patient finds one that works. In general, the effectiveness is usually tied to the severity of the depression or anxiety disorder.
According to a 2017 study from the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, about 40 to 60 out of 100 people who took an antidepressant noticed an improvement in their symptoms within six to eight weeks. Typically, someone with an anxiety disorder such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) may see improvements faster compared to patients with severe depression.
How Much Do These Drugs Cost?
SSRIs can range from about $21 a month (sometimes less) for generic versions to several hundred dollars a month for certain brand name drugs, according to a study from Consumer Reports. Generic versions are available for all SSRIs on the market, including Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and Lexapro.