The most common antidepressants prescribed to patients are those belonging to a class called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
SSRIs are a type of antidepressant that work by preventing the reuptake (movement back into the nerve endings) of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Low levels of serotonin have been associated with depression, so it is believed that SSRIs relieve depression by making more of this important substance available for use.
SSRIs are generally preferred by doctors and patients over the older classes of antidepressants -- monoamineoxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and tricyclics -- because they have fewer side effects and are relatively safe in overdose.
Some of the SSRIs that are currently available include:
- Prozac (fluoxetine)
- Celexa (citalopram)
- Zoloft (sertraline)
- Paxil (paroxetine)
- Lexapro (escitalopram)
Other commonly used antidepressants include serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), which inhibit the reuptake of another neurotransmitter called norepinephrine, in addition to serotonin. This class includes antidepressants such as Effexor (venlafaxine) and Cymbalta (duloxetine). In addition, the antidepressant Wellbutrin (bupropion) is a popular choice. Wellbutrin works in a unique fashion, acting upon the neurotransmitter dopamine, and does not fit into any specific drug class. Like SSRIs, these antidepressants are popular choices because they have fewer side effects than the older antidepressants.
James L. Jacobson, Jacobson, Alan M. Psychiatric Secrets. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Hanley & Belfus, 2001.
"Mental Health Medications." National Institute of Mental Health. 2008. National Institutes of Health. Accessed: January 10, 2011.