Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content


10-minute read

If you, or someone else, are at immediate risk of suicide, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Key facts

  • Antidepressants are medicines used to treat mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
  • Antidepressants work on several chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters) that influence mood.
  • Different antidepressants cause different side effects, but common side effects include nausea, dizziness, weight gain and sexual problems.
  • Most people need to take antidepressants for at least 6 to 12 months, but many people will take them for much longer.
  • Don’t stop antidepressants suddenly — ask your doctor how to taper (gradually reduce) your dose to minimise withdrawal symptoms.

What are antidepressants?

Antidepressants are medicines used to treat mental health conditions including:

Medicine is just one strategy used to treat depression and anxiety conditions. Other treatments may also be needed, such as psychological treatments (talking therapy) or lifestyle changes.

How do antidepressants work?

Antidepressants affect several chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters) that influence mood and anxiety, including:

Because of how they work, you may need to take antidepressants for a while before you see your symptoms improve.

If you have depression, you may begin to feel better 2 to 4 weeks after starting an antidepressant medication, but it can take up to 6 to 8 weeks to feel the full effect.

If you have an anxiety disorder, it may take 4 to 6 weeks before you start feeling better. It may take up to 12 weeks to feel the full effect.

In some people, antidepressants are not effective, no matter how long they take them for.

What types of antidepressants might I be prescribed?

There are many different types of antidepressants. They are grouped according to how they work in the body. Within each group, there are several different medicines that work in a similar way.

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed antidepressant class in Australia. While they are not necessarily more effective than others, they are usually well-tolerated by most people, which means that most people find that side effects are not too troublesome. Examples of this class of antidepressants include citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, paroxetine and sertraline.
  • Serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) have fewer side effects than SSRIs and may be used for more severe depression. They include duloxetine, venlafaxine and desvenlafaxine.
  • Noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (NARIs) work on noradrenaline and are less likely to cause drowsiness than other classes. This class includes reboxetine.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are less commonly prescribed today, as they are associated with more harmful side effects than newer medicines. They include amitriptyline, nortriptyline, clomipramine, dothiepin, doxepin, imipramine and trimipramine.
  • Reversible inhibitors of monoamine oxidase A (RIMAs) are more commonly used to treat anxiety than depression. They include moclobemide.
  • Noradrenalin-serotonin specific antidepressants (NaSSAs) are a relatively new class with fewer sexual side effects but can cause weight gain. This class includes mirtazapine.
  • MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) are rarely prescribed today due to their risk of side effects. They include phenelzine and tranylcypromine.
  • ‘Atypical’ antidepressants that don’t easily fit into the classes above, and include agomelatine and vortioxetine. Agomelatine stimulate melatonin receptors to affect mood. Vortioxetine works on serotonin receptors, but in a different way to SSRIs and SNRIs.

Read more on a specific antidepressant medicine by searching the name in the online healthdirect Medicines tool.

What are the side effects or risks associated with antidepressants?

Like all medicines, antidepressants may have side effects. For most people, the side effects are not bad enough that they need to stop taking the medicine.

Different people may experience different side effects, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about your personal situation. Some people experience no side effects at all.

Side effects differ between antidepressants. Some antidepressant side effects may include:

Some of these side effects improve as your body gets used to the medicine.

It’s a good idea to ask your doctor or pharmacist about any common side effects associated with the antidepressant you have been prescribed.

Suicide risk when starting antidepressants

Some people, especially children and young people, can experience an increase in suicidal thoughts when they start taking antidepressants. This generally resolves over time as the medicine starts to work.

If someone you care about is starting antidepressants, it’s a good idea to look out for signs of suicidal thoughts or plans. If you are starting antidepressants yourself, think about what you can do to keep yourself safe if you start thinking about suicide.

If you, or someone else, are at immediate risk of suicide, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

To talk to someone now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

Learn about suicide warning signs and what to do.

Serotonin toxicity

A rare side effect of some antidepressants is serotonin toxicity (also known as serotonin syndrome). Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include:

If you suspect that you, or someone else, is experiencing serotonin toxicity, seek urgent medical advice or visit the emergency department of your local hospital.

This is more common if you are taking more than one antidepressant or are taking other medicines, including opioid medicines or recreational drugs.

You can reduce your chance of developing serotonin syndrome by taking your medicines exactly as prescribed by your doctor and avoiding recreational drugs.

How do I know which antidepressant is right for me?

Your doctor will take into account a range of factors when deciding which antidepressant to prescribe, including:

  • your age
  • your sex
  • your main symptoms
  • potential side effects
  • potential interactions with any other medicines you are taking
  • if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • your preferences

You may find that one type of antidepressant is more effective than others at relieving your symptoms. It can take some time to identify which antidepressant is right for you, so it’s important to keep in touch with your doctor, especially when you first start taking an antidepressant. If the medicine is causing side effects, or isn’t working, your doctor can advise whether another type of antidepressant might be more suitable.

How do I take antidepressants

Most antidepressants are taken daily. Your doctor or pharmacist may recommend that you take your medicine at a certain time of day to minimise the chance of side effects. For example, you might prefer to take a medicine that can make you drowsy at night before bed.

How long you will need to take antidepressants will depend on your circumstances and how you respond to treatment. Some people take antidepressants for 6 to 12 months before stopping, without their symptoms recurring. Other people will need to take antidepressants for longer, sometimes for life.

Stopping antidepressants

Stopping antidepressants suddenly is likely to cause withdrawal symptoms including:

  • nausea or vomiting
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • anxiety or agitation
  • sweating

The specific withdrawal effects vary depending on the class of medicine you have been taking.

If you want or need to stop your antidepressant medicine, make sure to ask your doctor how to taper (gradually reduce) your medicine safely. Gradually reducing the dose of medicine you take will lower the chance of you experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

If your doctor recommends that you switch to a different antidepressant, ask them for specific instructions about when to taper and stop your current medicine, and when to start the new one.

When should I see my doctor?

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, see your doctor. They can help you identify the best strategy to relieve your symptoms.

You should also speak to your doctor if you:

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

What else can be used to treat depression and anxiety?

There are many strategies that can help relieve your symptoms of depression and anxiety, including:

Some people feel better with psychological therapy alone. Others find it best to use a combination of antidepressants and psychological therapy.

There are many different psychological therapies. The most common is cognitive behavioural therapy. This therapy aims to identify and change your negative thoughts and how you react to them. Other types of therapy aim to get you to accept your thoughts and environment in a non-judgemental way.

Lifestyle changes can also help:

Some people find that certain herbal medicines, such as St John’s wort extract, help relieve mild symptoms of depression and anxiety. Other people take herbal medicines to help with sleep.

If you choose to take herbal medicines or remedies, make sure to let your doctor know, as they can interact with medicines your doctor prescribes.

Resources and support

Here are some resources on antidepressants for people with depression and their families:

  • Call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or visit its website for information and support for people with depression and anxiety and their families.
  • Call SANE on 1800 187 263 or visit its website for information and support for people with mental health conditions and their friends, families and communities.
  • The Black Dog Institute researches mental health in Australia across the lifespan, and has resources about mental health conditions or the wider community.
  • Asking about your treatment or medicine is important to help you understand your options. Read healthdirect's guide to important questions to ask your pharmacist or doctor before taking a medicine.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2023

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Antidepressant medication

Quick facts Antidepressant medication can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions They affect brain chemicals ca...

Read more on SANE Australia website

Antidepressant Medication - Finding North

Antidepressant medications are often used to treat depression, anxiety and related mental health conditions.

Read more on Finding North website

Antidepressant medication | Your Health in Mind

Antidepressant medications can reduce symptoms of depression, such as feelings of sadness, thoughts of suicide, tirednes...

Read more on RANZCP - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website

Treatments & Therapies - Finding North

Antidepressant Medication Antidepressant medications are often used to treat depression, anxiety and related mental health conditions

Read more on Finding North website

Treatments for depression - Beyond Blue - Beyond Blue

Learn about a range of effective treatments for depression, such as therapy and antidepressant medications. What works best will differ for everyone.

Read more on Beyond Blue website

St John's Wort - BluePages

Find out if St John's wort is likely to help.

Read more on e-hub Web Services - Australian National University (ANU) website

Benzodiazepines/Tranquilisers - BluePages

Find out if tranquillisers are likely to help.

Read more on e-hub Web Services - Australian National University (ANU) website

Delayed ejaculation: Causes & treatment | Healthy Male

Struggling to cum? Find out what causes delayed ejaculation, like medication and mental health, and treatment options when you can't orgasm.

Read more on Healthy Male website

Antidepressant medicines -

Antidepressants are medicines that can treat depression and its symptoms. They can also sometimes be used to treat other conditions, including anxiety disorders and chronic (ongoing) pain.

Read more on MyDoctor website

Treatments for mental illness

Quick Facts Mental illness can be treated. When you or someone you know starts to feel mentally unwell, the first step in obtaining treatment is to se...

Read more on SANE Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.