Medications & Alternative Treatments for Depression during COVID-19

In the past year, COVID-19 and its related stressors have tripled the rate of depression in US adults. In response to this mental health crisis, many people are looking for help with medication as well as alternative treatments. And for a good reason.

Depression can worsen over time if no intervention is used to stop it. So, seeking help early on, especially during the first depressive episode, can help people feel better sooner and potentially decrease the chance of another episode occurring in the future.

Anxiety and depression are most often treated with medications, talk therapy or a combination of the two. But many still have questions about whether antidepressants can truly help those dealing with mental distress related to the pandemic. Or, whether there are other safe and effective treatment alternatives for depression? We’ve rounded up answers to these common questions and more.

What are antidepressants?

An antidepressant is a medication used to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety disorders, seasonal affective disorder, dysthymia and other conditions. They aim to reduce symptoms by correcting chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters in the brain. There are five major classes of antidepressants:

  • Serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • Noradrenaline and specific serotoninergic antidepressants (NASSAs)

Each type of antidepressant has its own benefits, side effects and appropriate uses. However, it’s a common misconception that antidepressants are only helpful for people who are experiencing chronic chemical imbalances, as opposed to depression or anxiety resulting from a traumatic event. Trauma can trigger changes to neurotransmitter levels in the brain, even if you’ve never had a similar issue before. Therefore, medications, especially when combined with psychotherapy, can help treat symptoms that were set off by an event, like COVID-19.

How long do most antidepressants take to start working?

Generally, most people achieve maximum relief of depressive symptoms after two to three months of antidepressant use. Doctors look for patients to start feeling better about four to six weeks after starting an antidepressant. If an individual does not show any improvement after four to six weeks, then further steps are usually taken. Those steps may include increasing drug dosage, switching antidepressants or adding alternative treatments like psychotherapy.

What are the side effects are associated with antidepressants?

Like all medications, antidepressants can have side effects. Side effects are unwanted symptoms caused by medical treatment. The side effects of antidepressants can range in severity and often, they improve with time. Differences in the way each person’s body metabolizes drugs can impact the severity and duration of the side effects. Over half of all people who take antidepressants have side effects. Side effects commonly associated with antidepressants include:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Feeling Agitated or Anxious
  • Dry Mouth
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Change in appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Sexual Dysfunction or Low Sex Drive

Depending on the class, type and dose of antidepressant, these side effects can vary. In rare cases, some people experience suicidal thoughts and a desire to self-harm when they first take antidepressants. Contact your physician, or go to the hospital immediately, if you have thoughts of harming yourself at any time.

How effective are antidepressants?

There are a lot of different antidepressants and it can be difficult to predict how well a particular medication will help an individual. Often, doctors first suggest taking a medication that they consider to be effective and relatively well-tolerated. If it doesn’t help as much as expected, it’s possible to switch to a different medication and sometimes a number of different antidepressants have to be tried before you find one that works.

While antidepressants can be effective for many individuals struggling with depression, 30% of people do not improve with antidepressant treatment. Many others experience partial improvement with some lingering symptoms or intolerable side effects that can be discouraging and lead to discontinuing treatment.

Are there any safe and effective alternative treatments for depression?

The goal of depression treatment is to achieve full remission, not live a life with lingering symptoms or side effects. There are many safe and effective treatment options that can fully relieve depressive symptoms including:

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a safe and effective treatment for depression that uses magnetic pulses to stimulate specific areas of the brain responsible for mood. TMS is non-invasive (does not require surgery), non-systemic (does not affect the entire body), covered by most insurance and has no drug-related side effects. Typically, patients experience symptom relief with TMS is just two weeks.

Since its FDA clearance in 2008 for depression and 2018 for OCD, studies have suggested TMS may also be a promising treatment for a range of other mental health conditions. Notably, TMS is a safe and effective treatment option for anxiety, cognitive impairment and addiction relapse prevention.

IV Ketamine

Although ketamine has been used safely as an anesthetic since the 1960s, the discovery of ketamine as a highly effective and rapid-acting treatment for a wide range of treatment-resistant mood disorders has been hailed as arguably the most significant development in psychiatry during the past few decades.

While existing antidepressant medications take up to several weeks to exert their effects, one dose of ketamine has been shown to have a greater response rate within a matter of hours. Although IV ketamine is FDA-approved as an anesthetic, it is used off-label to treat mood and chronic pain disorders. At the present time, ketamine infusions for mood and chronic pain disorders are cash pay procedures.

Magnetic E-Resonance Treatment (MeRT)

MeRT therapy is a treatment that combines the technologies of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS, an FDA cleared therapy), qEEG and EKG to deliver treatments tailored for each individual’s unique brain pattern.

By measuring and analyzing your brainwave activity, MeRT assesses the communication quality between the neurons in your brain and custom designs treatment protocols to optimize brain function. Using neuroscience and machine learning, MeRT visibly reshapes brainwave activity and strengthens functionality to improve health outcomes.

To learn more about antidepressants and alternative treatments for depression, contact us via our website or call our expert clinical team today.

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