How do antidepressants work ?

31 October 2004

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Question

How do antidepressants work?

Answer

Depression seems to result from low levels of certain 'feel-good' chemicals in the brain. There are about billion nerve cells in the brain, which talk to each other using electrical signals. When these signals get to the end of one nerve cell they jump to the next at a site called a synapse, using a chemical messenger known as a neurotransmitter. One of the most important of these is a substance called serotonin, and people with depression tend to have low levels of this and similar chemicals. Antidepressants help to push up the levels of of these chemicals, helping to improve mood. St John's Wort is an example of a natural remedy that some people use, which is said to have a positive effect. Of course some people don't suffer from depression, but seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which can be worse at this time of year.

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