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What’s the difference between antidepressants?


Author: Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division



There are many different types of antidepressant medications, and they each work in different ways. Antidepressants are divided into “classes” based on what they do and which chemical messengers in the brain (called neurotransmitters) they are thought to influence. Each class may contain several different medications, which each have slightly different ways of working. Below, you’ll find common classes and examples of common medications. The first name is the generic name and name in brackets is the brand name.

  • SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors: fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Cipralex), and sertraline (Zoloft)

  • SNRIs or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors: venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta)

  • NDRIs or norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors: bupropion (Wellbutrin and Zyban)

  • NaSSAs or noradrenergic and specific serotonergic antidepressants: mirtazapine (Remeron), which can also be classed as a TeCa or tetracyclic antidepressant

  • SARIs or serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitors: trazodone (Desyrel)

There are other classes of antidepressants (such as MAOIs or triclycics) that are much older and have more side effects or restrictions. They are usually prescribed when newer antidepressants don’t work. Other medications such as lithium, thyroid medication, or antipsychotics may also be prescribed, often in combination with an antidepressant to boost its effect. Antidepressants are not only used to treat depression—they may be prescribed to treat other illnesses like anxiety disorders.

Only medical doctors like family doctors or psychiatrists can prescribe antidepressants. If your doctor recommends that you consider antidepressants, keep in mind that most people have to try a few different options before they find the right medication. It can be a frustrating process, especially when you feel unwell, but it’s important to find something that works for you! Side effects and benefits can vary significantly between different people, and it’s difficult to predict how a medication might work without trying it out first. Everyone responds to them differently. It’s very important to have ongoing discussions with your health care team regarding your medication so you can bring up any problems or concerns—or even ask more about how your particular antidepressant works.

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About the author

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The Canadian Mental Health Association promotes the mental health of all and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing a mental illness through public education, community-based research, advocacy, and direct services. Visit


Q&A is for readers who want to take charge of their well-being, support a friend or loved one, find good help, or just learn more about mental health and substance use. Here, the information and resource experts at HeretoHelp will answer the questions that we’re asked most often. We'll offer tips and information, and we'll connect you with help in BC, Canada. If you have a question you’d like to ask, email us at [email protected], tweet @heretohelpbc, or log in to HeretoHelp and post a comment on this page.


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