Antidepressants 101: A Comprehensive Guide with Natural Alternatives

Battling depression is no easy feat but there are a variety of tools and medications out there to help you along the way. And you aren’t alone. Depression is a common mental illness that affects approximately 21 million adults in the United States alone. It is the leading cause of disability and unfortunately, when left untreated the symptoms can worsen and even lead to death. However, as difficult as depression is to deal with, there is hope – and plenty of help available. Whether it’s taking a prescription antidepressant medication or making some diet and lifestyle changes, this article covers key information on learning how to manage depression symptoms and get yourself back to feeling like yourself again.

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What are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants are the medications used to help treat clinical depression and other mental health conditions, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In some cases, antidepressants are also used to help alleviate chronic pain.

However, it’s important to note that although antidepressants can be an effective form of treatment for reducing symptoms of these conditions, they are not a cure. If you are struggling with depression, don’t let this factor alone deter you from these medications. You can still live a successful, happy and healthy life with depression when you manage your symptoms and medications help do just that.

How Antidepressants Work

The way antidepressants work comes down to a science. These medications are designed to increase important neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline, to boost your mood and regulate your emotions. Here’s a crash course on what those three brain chemicals do for our mental health:

  • Serotonin is essential for regulating your mood and is commonly referred to as the “feel good” hormone
  • Dopamine is responsible for allowing you to feel motivation, satisfaction and pleasure
  • Noradrenaline helps increase alertness, attention and arousal

By understanding these three chemicals, it’s easy to see how increasing them can help battle symptoms of depression.

Types of Antidepressants

When it comes to treating depression with medication, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In fact, starting antidepressants is very much a trial-and-error process where you have to find the appropriate type of medication and dose for you. And what works for you may not work for someone else and vice versa.

Fortunately, there are several different types of antidepressants available. While they all aim to support your brain chemicals, some work differently than others. For example, some medications focus more on increasing serotonin levels than the others.

Let’s take a look at the antidepressants available and how they can help you combat depression.

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): These types of antidepressant medications are commonly used as the first step to treating depression, anxiety and other mental illness. They work by increasing your serotonin levels and have fewer potential side effects than the other options. Some examples of SSRIs include Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil.
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): These medications help affect the brain chemistry by increasing your serotonin and norepinephrine levels. Some examples of SNRI medications include Pristiq, Cymbalta and Effexor.
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): These kinds of antidepressants help stop the monoamine oxidase enzyme from removing norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine from the brain. This increases your levels and helps improve your brain chemistry. However, MAOIs can have serious side effects and often require you to be on a strict diet due to potentially dangerous interactions with certain foods. Some examples of this type of medication are Parnate, Nardil and Marplan.
  • Atopical antidepressants: This is a term used to describe antidepressants that don’t fit into one specific category of antidepressants. Some examples of these medications include Remeron, Trintellix, Forfivo and Wellbutrin.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants: Antidepressants that fall in this category tend to have more potential side effects than the newer options available, so they aren’t typically prescribed until you’ve tried the other options. Some examples of these medications include Pamelor and Norpramin.
  • Other medications: There are also several types of medications that can help boost the effects of antidepressants. Some examples include Lithobid, Seroquel and Abilify. These are often prescribed alongside other antidepressants.

Natural Antidepressant Herbs

Although antidepressants can be an effective way to combat depression, prescription medications aren’t for everyone. Not only can they be quite expensive, but they can also pose a wide range of potential side effects. The good news: there are several natural ways to manage depression, with herbs being a top choice.

Below is a comprehensive list of the most effective, evidence-based herbs for treating depression. 


A common herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine that is quickly becoming mainstream due to its therapeutic properties is rhodiola. Also known as golden root or arctic root, rhodiola is an adaptogen herb meaning it helps the body adapt to stress. This alone offers a plethora of advantages, as it makes you more resistance to every day stress.

Studies have also found that rhodiola can help treat mild-to-moderate depression, with noticeable results being seen in as little as a week. This is quicker than the effects of traditional antidepressants.

St. John’s Wort

One of the most popular herbs for treating depression and anxiety is St. John’s Wort. In fact, it is so effective that it is often the first form of treatment used in German to treat mild-to-moderate cases. The efficacy is said to be similar to that of prescription antidepressants, without the long list of potential side effects. Although, the full effect of this herb can take a couple of weeks.


Lavender has been recognized as a top herb for all kinds of mental health conditions – from insomnia and other sleep disorders to chronic pain, anxiety, and more. When it comes to depression, studies found that using lavender oil can reduce depressive moods. There are also so many different ways to use lavender oil: sleep sprays, essential oil rollers, teas, you name it.

Valerian Root

Valerian is another herb that can help improve your mental health in a variety of ways. For example, it is recognized as being the most effective herb for improving sleep quality, which can help improve depression since a lack of sleep plays a vital role in how you feel and how well your brain functions. Valerian root can also be used to treat more serious cases of anxiety.


Bacopa monnieri is a herb commonly used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. It’s now being recognized across the globe for a variety of reasons, including its ability to enhance memory, treat epilepsy, reduce anxiety, boost brain function and help alleviate anxiety and stress.


Chamomile is another popular herb that offers many advantages for people struggling with depression and anxiety. Similar to lavender, it can also help improve sleep quality and reduce anxiety, which will also have a positive effect on your mood. Various studies have also found it to be effective for treating depression in general.


Kava root has been found to be an effective herb for treating generalized anxiety disorder, depression and insomnia. It’s believed to have a similar effect to valium, and can improve cognitive function.


It’s time to toss in some thyme into your next dish. This herb is rich in lithium and tryptophan, both of which are known to act as mood stabilizers and sleep aids in small doses. This means you can easily experience the benefits simply by adding the spice into meals.

Thyme can also help treat insomnia, stress and mental fatigue which can also drastically improve your mood and depression.


Ashwagandha is a herb that has been used in Ayurveda traditional medicine for thousands of years and finally, studies are starting to catch up. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen herb that has been shown to reduce stress hormones, improve memory, and protect against neuronal damage caused by diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s. It can also help treat OCD and bipolar disorder and reduce depression symptoms, with various studies showing it to be an effective anxiolytic and mood stabilizer.

Ginkgo Extract

Ginkgo extract is available in the United States as a nutritional supplement that is made from dried Ginkgo biloba leaves and it can be an excellent herb for treating a variety of conditions such as memory loss, concentration issues, mental confusion, depression, anxiety, dizziness, tinnitus, and headaches. Ginkgo works by increasing neurotransmitters and decreasing harmful free radicals, while also reducing cortisol levels (your stress hormone).


Rosemary is another herb you likely use in the kitchen that also offers several mental health benefits.  For example, it has been found to be an effective antidepressant and anxiolytic due to the active ingredients within it, such as rosmanol, circimaritin, and salvigenin. So, be sure to sprinkle in some rosemary the next time you whipping something up in the kitchen for a natural boost to your mood.


Maca is a root vegetable known to help boost libido, and alleviate depression. It can also improve cognitive function, reduce anxiety and boost your mood.

Whether you’re considering seeing your doctor about antidepressants or are going to try some natural herbs for depression first, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Depression doesn’t have to be the main character in your story. If you notice your condition worsening, be sure to seek medical attention from a professional.

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