When I suggest to a new patient that they consider antidepressant medication, I get a picture of all the misconceptions people have about what these medications do. First of all, they are not happy pills; they don’t artificially induce a feeling of bliss or unrealistic well-being. No medication can do that, except for alcohol and some illegal drugs, and their effects don’t last. Nor do antidepressants insulate you from life, make you not care about important things, or insensitive to pain or loss. Tranquilizers can do that, for a while, but antidepressants can’t. Also, antidepressants aren’t addictive, nor does their effect diminish so that you will have to increase your dosage later on. What antidepressants do is somehow prevent us from sliding down the chute into the blackest depths of depression when something bad happens. We still can feel hurt, pain, worry, but we feel these like normal people do, without depression.

These medications also can help us sleep better, give us more energy, and greater ability to concentrate. They seem to help us change our perspective or sense of proportion, so that we can appreciate better the good side of life and not be overwhelmed by the negative.

The way antidepressants work is interesting. There are two chemicals that have to do with the transmission of impulses between nerve cells in the brain and seem to be associated with depression. It seems as if depressed people burn up these chemicals more quickly than other people. Antidepressants help to maintain these chemicals at more stable levels in the brain.

Antidepressant medication is an important aid that should be considered by anyone who feels they are suffering from depression. But because their use requires close observation and more training than most physicians have, I don’t recommend you ask your general practitioner to give you a trial run. Instead, see a psychiatrist who is experienced in the administration of these potent and helpful medicines.

If you, or someone you love, might be suffering from depression, get help right away. Treatment is effective and affordable. Talk to your health care provider or call your local mental health clinic before a bad situation becomes worse.