As we continue to work on destigmatizing mental health, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are being more frequently prescribed by doctors to treat various behavioral health issues. We aim to educate you on the basics of this class of medication and if it could benefit you or someone you know.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that carries messages between brain cells and contributes to well-being; it’s often referred to as the “feel-good hormone.” SSRIs increase serotonin levels in the brain by preventing the reuptake of serotonin by nerves. This is especially beneficial for people suffering from depression, as it is often attributed to a serotonin deficit. SSRIs are one of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants because they are so effective at improving mood with fewer or less severe side effects compared to other types of antidepressants. CHP Clinical Pharmacy Director Shawn Patrick advises, “SSRIs are among some of the most affordable medications available to patients.”
Though they are commonly called antidepressants, SSRIs can be prescribed to manage symptoms of various behavioral health conditions. These conditions include anxiety, bulimia nervosa, fibromyalgia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Many of the most commonly prescribed SSRIs are recognizable to people; brands like Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft are all fairly well-known.
When taken under the direction of a medical professional and at the recommended dosage, SSRIs are considered safe. However, they still come with side effects attached to them. Some common side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, gastrointestinal distress, headache, and sexual dysfunction. These are most often experienced when starting a new medication and frequently can subside after you acclimate to it. Shawn Patrick describes, “Typically, your doctor will start with a lower dose to avoid side effects. Most side effects subside after the first week of treatment.” However, it is essential to talk to your doctor if you are experiencing these or more severe side effects, such as increased suicidal ideation or heart palpitations.
When starting a course of antidepressants, you must consistently take them daily, so your brain has time to adjust to the influx of serotonin. “It is important to remember that SSRIs take time to work. It’s not like flipping on the light switch in a dark room. It can take 4-6 weeks before the patient notices improvement, and longer until they reach their maximum effectiveness,” cautions Dr. Patrick. Occasionally the side effects may cause conditions to worsen before they get better. Still, it takes weeks for your body to acclimate to the medication and should not be stopped suddenly, as many SSRIs are associated with a discontinuation syndrome.
If you might be interested in starting using SSRIs to manage your behavioral health symptoms, talk to a healthcare provider about what might be a good fit for you. Make an appointment at a CHP clinic in Livingston, Belgrade, or Bozeman today to speak with a provider about antidepressants and if they are an option for you.