Medicines for depression and anxiety

Some people with depression or anxiety might take a medicine to help their mental health. Others may use non-medicine choices, or a mix of treatments. It can take time to find what works best for you.


What are antidepressants?

Antidepressants are a group of medicines that can help some people with depression. Doctors also prescribe them for other mental health conditions like anxiety. So the name antidepressants can be confusing.

Types of antidepressants

There are many different medicines for depression or anxiety. They have different chemicals in them that make them work (active ingredients). You can learn more about active ingredients here.

Group name

Active ingredient names

selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, paroxetine, sertraline

serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

duloxetine, venlafaxine, desvenlafaxine

serotonin modulator


noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors


tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs )

 amitriptyline, nortriptyline, clomipramine, dothiepin, doxepin, imipramine, trimipramine

reversible inhibitors of monoamine oxidase A (RIMAs )


tetracyclic antidepressants


tetracyclic analogues of mianserin


monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

phenelzine, tranylcypromine

melatonergic antidepressants


Use our Medicine Finder to learn more about the medicines in this table.

How do these medicines work?

These medicines can change how chemicals in the brain work. This seems to help some people have less depression or anxiety, or manage their condition better.

Will they work for me?

There has been a lot of research done to try and understand what can cause some people to get depression. This research shows that the condition is complex. There is no single cause or reason. Biology, life events and environment can all contribute.

Changing the levels of chemicals in the brain may be one part of how a person can be treated, but it is not the whole treatment.

Read more about who can get depression and how it can be looked after here.

There are many actions and choices available to help people manage their depression.

Will I need a medicine?

Medicines are not always the first choice for helping with depression or anxiety.

There are many things to think about when deciding how to take care of mental health. This includes lifestyle changes and finding support. Make sure you talk with your health professional about what you think might work best for you.

This factsheet can help explain what choices you have – Anxiety and depression: Find the path that works for you.

You should understand:

  • medicines that work for you may not work for someone else. Even if you both have depression or anxiety.
  • you won’t feel better straight away. Most people start to feel better after taking a medicine for 2 to 4 weeks. But it can take up to 6 to 8 weeks for them to really work. It may be longer than this for people with anxiety.
  • some people will only need to take the medicine for a set length of time. Others may need to take the medicine for many years.

If medicines are a choice for you, make sure to ask about possible unwanted effects. These can be different between the medicines. You might feel some side effects are easier to deal with than others. This can help you and your doctor choose what medicines to try.

Research shows that using psychological therapies at the same time as medicines can be the most helpful action.

Are some medicines better than others?

There is no simple answer to this question.

All prescription medicines in Australia must have research that shows they are safe and they work. If you look at that research you will see:

  • medicines for depression or anxiety do not help everyone who takes them
  • if they do work, the results could be different for each person
  • for some people they work straight away, for others it can take time to start feeling a change
  • some people need to try a number of different medicines before they find one that helps. Some people had good results even though they were taking a placebo (fake) medicine. This means that some people will get better on their own without needing medicines.

You can find out more about different antidepressant medicines by talking with your health professional or using our Medicine Finder.

You can find out more about how the approval of medicines in Australia on this page.

What should I know about side effects?

Any medicine you take or use can have unwanted results (side effects). Even medicines made from natural or herbal products.

Some side effects are common. That means they are more likely to happen but does not mean they will happen. Other side effects are rare, and it is harder to say if you will have them. Not everyone who takes a medicine will have a side effect. People who take the same medicine can have different side effects. This is why it is important to learn about all the effects that a medicine can have.

Some side effects go away, others do not

Some side effects from antidepressant medicines might go away after a few weeks of taking them. Examples are:

  • trouble sleeping
  • feeling like throwing up
  • dizziness.

Other side effects might not go away while you take the medicine, such as:

  • weight gain
  • low sex drive
  • problems having sex.

Your doctor or pharmacist should tell you what side effects to expect. And they may have tips on how to deal with them. If you become worried by a side effect talk with your doctor. They may lower the amount of medicine you take or talk about trying a different one.

Can antidepressants raise the chance of suicide?

Thinking about suicide or acting on those thoughts can be signs of depression and other mental health conditions. They may be reasons why you look for help.

Some research suggests that taking antidepressants may raise the chance of these things happening. Other research does not show this.

If someone taking antidepressants thinks about suicide or acts on those thoughts, it can be hard to work out:

  • if it is because of their mental health condition, or
  • if it is because of the medicine.

Often, someone is at their lowest point when they first start taking an antidepressant. It can also take a few weeks for these medicines to work.

What we know from the research is:

  • not all antidepressants have this risk
  • the risk might be higher when a person is starting or stopping a medicine
  • the risk might be higher when a person changes how much medicine they are taking
  • people from all ages can be at risk.

Knowing about this risk should not stop someone taking an antidepressant if it is a good choice for their condition. Knowing about this risk means a person can get more care if they need it at those times.

If you have thoughts of harming yourself or of death, get help straight away. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14. They have health professionals ready to talk with you - at any time of the day or night. You can also go to the nearest Emergency Department for help.

People who care for someone starting an antidepressant should know what signs to look out for. If they are worried they should call the patient's doctor.

How long will I need to take a medicine?

How long you will need to take an antidepressant for can depend on:

  • what condition they are helping
  • what other things you are doing to help
  • what other medicines you might be taking
  • what other health conditions you might also have.

If a medicine is an option for you, be aware it can take some time to start feeling better. For people with depression it might be 6–8 weeks. For people with anxiety it can be up to 12 weeks.

Make sure you have a plan to see your doctor. This helps them check if the medicines are working. You can tell them about side effects or other things that are worrying you.

Most people keep taking a medicine after they have started feeling better. Some people will need to take medicine for many years.

If you do take a medicine, there are many other actions that are also helpful. These are looking after your health, getting enough sleep, having good support and using psychological therapies.

Stopping an antidepressant

Some medicines you can start and stop on your own. An example might be pain medicines like paracetamol or ibuprofen. Other medicines you only take for a short time, like antibiotics. They come with instructions about when to stop taking them.

You should not stop other medicines quickly unless your doctor says you can. These are usually for long-term health conditions like depression, anxiety, heart disease or diabetes. If you and your doctor agree to stop your antidepressants it will not be straight away. You will need to take lower and lower amounts. This makes sure you do not have side effects like:

  • dizziness
  • feeling like you need to throw up
  • feeling nervous.

Your doctor or pharmacist can help write a plan for stopping an antidepressant.

Natural medicines for depression

Some people take medicines made from natural products like plants. You might know them as:

  • herbal
  • natural
  • complementary
  • alternative
  • traditional or
  • bush medicines.

You can buy these at a health food shop or supermarket. Or get them from a traditional medicine professional.

Some natural medicines have medical research, but many have not. Make sure to let your doctor, nurse or pharmacist know if you take any natural medicines.

Here is a list of some natural medicines people use for depression or anxiety:

  • lavender oil
  • fish oils (omega-3 fatty acids)
  • St John’s wort
  • valerian
  • zinc
  • passionflower
  • kava.

Beyond Blue has looked at how different medicine and non-medicine options work. You can read their booklet: A guide to what works for depression.

Help lines and support groups

The table below has phone numbers you can call any time of the day and any day of the week (24/7).

Emergency and crisis helplines



Service offered

Suicide Call Back Service

1300 659 467

24/7 counselling for people at risk of suicide, carers and bereaved

MensLine Australia

1300 78 99 78

24/7 support for men dealing with relationship and family issues


13 11 14

24/7 support for those thinking about suicide or experiencing a personal crisis

Kids Help Line

1800 55 1800

24/7 counselling for young people 5-25 years

Telephone Interpreter Service

131 450

If English is not your first language, call the Telephone Interpreter Service for assistance calling a helpline

Support groups (phone and online)

Getting together with other people who know what it’s like to go through depression, or care for someone with depression, can be very helpful.

You can find a support group through your state mental health association, The Black Dog Institute or GROW.

The table below shows different groups that might be helpful to look up on the internet or to call.

What information do you need?

Link to web page and phone number

Suicide prevention

Lifeline, telephone 13 11 14

Suicide Prevention Australia

General information about depression

beyondblue, telephone 1300 224 636

The Black Dog Institute

The Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression (CRUfAD)

SANE Australia



head to health

Depression while pregnant or after having a baby

Just Speak Up

For men

MensLine Australia

For kids

Kids Helpline

For teens and young adults

Youth beyondblue


For people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities

Mental health in multicultural Australia

Embrace Multicultural Mental Health

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples



For LGBTQI+ people and their loved ones

QLife, telephone 1800 184 527