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What are antidepressants?

The term ‘antidepressants’ can get confusing because although antidepressants were originally marketed as treatments for depression, they have been found to work in other conditions.

They are used in anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social phobia, premenstrual syndrome, insomnia, pain relief, headaches/migraine prevention.

The three main neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) they target are serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Different medications affect different neurotransmitters in the brain. Molecules of the antidepressants bind to nerve cells in the brain and affect their basic functioning. Here is a picture of a nerve cell in the brain. Put very simply, it is a network of ‘wires’ all connected to each other. Each nerve cell produces a specific neurotransmitter.


Below are the main groups of antidepressants, all affecting different neurotransmitters in the brain. The main neurotransmitter which each class mainly works on is in bold.

antid 4

I have written a previous article on how doctors may choose antidepressants, it might be useful to read in conjunction with this post. Read more ….