Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most frequently prescribed category of antidepressants. These medications have an excellent reputation for both safety and effectiveness. Developed in the past 20 years, SSRIs work by increasing the amount of an essential chemical in the brain called serotonin. Also known as a neurotransmitter, serotonin's primary functions include mood regulation. Scientists still do not understand the details, but the evidence is clear that boosting serotonin results in improved mood for people suffering from depression or anxiety. SSRIs are called "selective" because they have relatively little effect on other neurotransmitters. The selectivity of SSRIs gives them a therapeutic advantage over previous antidepressant medications.
Antidepressant medications belonging to the SSRI category are now so widely prescribed as to receive name recognition outside of the health-care community. Some of the more well known SSRI medications are Celexa (citalopram), Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine), and Prozac (fluoxetine). Most prescriptions for these medications consist of a once-daily or even a once-weekly dosage. Because the amount of serotonin in the brain increases very slowly, these medications usually require up to four weeks to reach their full strength. It is even possible that a person will feel worse during the first week or two of treatment. As such, people taking any SSRI medication should report any unusual symptoms to their doctor.
Side effects of SSRI medications are usually mild and may only last a few weeks. Dry mouth, nausea, nervousness, headache, and sexual problems are among the most common side effects. These effects are rarely serious enough to cause a change in prescription. There is some concern that antidepressants slightly increase the likelihood of suicidal thinking, but the evidence on that point is not conclusive. All antidepressant medications work better when paired with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Medications can help with managing the overt symptoms of depression. Therapy can be useful for identifying root causes of negative feelings and developing strategies for coping with such feelings in the future.
Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Depression (major depression). Retrieved April 23, 2012, from
National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Antidepressant medications.Retrieved April 25, 2012, from
Harvard Health Publications. (2005). SSRI Side Effects: Harvard Mental Health Letter discusses the real risks of antidepressants. Retrieved April 25, 2012, from
Last Update: 06-28-2012
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