Antidepressants: 10 things you should know

Antidepressants are medicines that can be prescribed for different reasons, including to help treat some types of anxiety or depression. You might need to try more than one to find one that suits you best. If one doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean none will work. Talk to your doctor about what you can do.


Different medicines suit different people

There are many types of antidepressants. 

You might need to try more than one to find one that suits you best. If one doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean none will work. 

Talk to your doctor about what you can do.

You need to take them every day

Antidepressant medicines work best if you take them every day. 

To help you remember:

  • take them at the same time each day
  • set a reminder on your phone
  • use the NPS MedicineWise app
  • ask your pharmacist about pill boxes and other aids.

They take a while to work

When you first start taking an antidepressant medicine, you won’t feel better straight away. Most people start to feel better after taking them for 2 to 4 weeks. But it can take up to 6 to 8 weeks for them to really work. 

Ask your doctor:

  • how will I know if the medicine is working?
  • are there other things I can also be doing?

Know what side effects to look out for

All medicines can cause unwanted effects (side effects). Some people will get some side effects and others won’t. 

    Ask your doctor:

    • what side effects should I look out for
    • how long will they last
    • what can I do
    • when do I need to get help? And from who or where?

    Some side effects go away, others do not

    Some side effects may go away after a few weeks as your body gets used to the medicine. These are things like having trouble sleeping (insomnia), feeling like you might throw up (nausea) and feeling dizzy. Others, like problems having sex, may not.

    Talk to your doctor about what you can do if side effects are causing you problems. They may suggest taking a smaller amount (dose) or trying a different medicine.

    Keep checking in with your doctor

    You may need to see your doctor every few weeks when you first start these medicines. They’ll want to check how you’re feeling and whether you’re having any problems.

    Before you leave, ask your doctor when to come back to see them next.

    They're not a quick fix

    Take the medicine for as long as your doctor tells you. 

    Keep taking it even if you’re feeling better. 

    Most people will need to take these medicines for at least 6 to 12 months. If you stop taking it too early, your signs of depression or anxiety may come back.

    But don't stop suddenly

    Stopping your medicine suddenly can cause problems. You might feel dizzy, tired, worried, or have trouble sleeping. 

    Talk to your doctor about the right time to stop taking your medicine. When you’re ready, your doctor will work out a plan with you. They will slowly lower the amount you take over a few weeks until you’re not taking it at all. This lowers the chance of problems as you stop taking it.

    Know which medicines don't go together

    Taking these medicines (antidepressants) with some other medicines or drugs can cause problems. Use the Medicine Finder to learn if other things you take can affect how the antidepressant works.

    Always tell your doctor about all the medicines you take and be honest about other drugs you might use. Use a medicines list to help you keep track of all your medicines.

    They are not the only thing that can help you feel better

    There are many things that can help depression and anxiety. You might use one, or a mix, of these things to help you feel better, either with or without medicines.

    Our factsheet Anxiety and depression: Find the path that works for you might be helpful to read.


    Psychological treatment

    Learn ways to change how you think about and react to things that make you feel anxious or depressed. An example is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT works about as well as a medicine for mild depression or moderate anxiety, and can keep you feeling better for longer. You can do CBT with a psychologist or by doing an online course.

    Self help

    Things you can do in your daily life:

    • getting enough sleep
    • eating well
    • staying active
    • doing activities you enjoy
    • talking to family, friends and mental health professionals
    • cutting back on alcohol and other drugs
    • practicing relaxation.

    Your doctor can help you decide the best things for you to try

    Here are some questions you can ask:

    1. What are my options?
    2. Why are these the best options for me?
    3. When will I feel better?
    4. What if I don’t feel better?
    5. How much does it cost?