So, How Do Antidepressants Actually Work… and Why Do They Sometimes Not?

C17H18F3NO? What? I don’t know either. Fluoxetine? It’s okay, I too cannot pronounce that correctly. Prozac? Maybe that is beginning to sound a little bit more familiar! Prozac is an antidepressant (National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2020). In fact, Prozac is one of the most revolutionary and earliest synthesized commercially-available antidepressant medications. Antidepressant medication is just one of many available depression treatment options- such as psychotherapy and group therapy. (check out a helpful article by very well minded here if you’d like to know more about this! Today, let’s talk about antidepressant medications in particular: the different types, how they generally work, and why they are effective for only some people. 

I want to emphasize that my understanding of this information comes from high school and synthesizing information from credible online sources, but I’m not a professional in any way, shape, or form! I did my best to break down this information into an easily comprehensible format for teens based on my personal understanding; be sure to look directly at trustworthy sources for more information! With that being said, I hope this will be of use to you! Take care. 

What Are Antidepressant Medications?

Antidepressants aim to alleviate the symptoms of depression through the regulation of chemicals in the brain, specifically neurotransmitters (Nordqvist, 2018) Neurotransmitters are the “chemical messengers” of the brain. Like a car/bus/bike/walking brings you from your home to school, neurotransmitters bring signals from the neuron sending information (presynaptic neuron) to the neuron receiving information (postsynaptic neuron). Here’s a visual of this process! 

There are seven main neurotransmitters, each with important and specific functions, but most relevant to depression and mental health disorders are serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. 

The CDC estimates from 2011-2014, 12.7% of people aged 12 and older use antidepressant medications, making these a notable form of treatment for mental health disorders. 

What Types of Antidepressants are There?

There are 5 major types of antidepressants: Serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCA), Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs), and Noradrenaline and specific serotonergic antidepressants (NASSAU). Each of these alter the environment through the activation or inhibition of biological processes or enzymes, such as reuptake. (Nordqvist, 2018)

Let’s Get a Bit More Specific. 

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common antidepressants (Nordqvist, 2018). Prozac is one of these! (Or C17H18F3NO, if you want) Going back to the transportation analogy, individuals with Depression often “drive back” home too early. In other words, the neurotransmitter Serotonin returns too quickly to the presynaptic neuron. The process of neurotransmitters returning back to the presynaptic neuron is known as “Reuptake” (Nordqvist, 2018). SSRIs work to block the early reuptake of serotonin in depressed individuals, thereby alleviating symptoms of depression. This YouTube video cited by Medical News Today does a great job explaining this so check it out if you’d like!

Antidepressants Have Helped So Many. But Why Don’t They Work For Everyone?

Antidepressants have alleviated the symptoms of depression and some other mental health disorders in many people, especially when utilized simultaneously with other treatment options, like therapy. However, they don’t work for everyone…but why is that? Researchers from Northwestern University believe it’s because “the cause of depression has been oversimplified and drugs designed to treat it aim at the wrong target”. Antidepressants approach the treatment of depression in a universal and precise way by balancing the prevalence of neurotransmitters. (Northwestern University, 2009)However, as mentioned previously, Depression is a nuanced condition, and it’s causes stem from a complex interaction of “genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.” (The National Institute of Mental Health, 2018). Therefore, the universal and precise approach of antidepressants when treating depression may not suit everyone, due to differences in the root cause of the condition. 

Antidepressants are a medical miracle. Through their ability to regulate the chemical environment in the brain and body, they’ve helped so many with depression and other mental health disorders. However, they’re not effective for every individual. There are pros and cons to their usage and should only be taken under the guidance of a professional. New developments for the treatment of depression are in the works, and the future looks bright! You can read more about the emerging star KETAMINE here:

Keep your HEADS UP everyone and take care!

Works Cited:

National Center for Biotechnology Information (2020). PubChem Compound Summary for CID 3386, Fluoxetine. Retrieved August 25, 2020 from

Nordqvist, C. (2018, February 16). All about antidepressants (T. J. Legg, Ed.).

     Medical News Today. Retrieved August 25, 2020, from

Northwestern University. (2009, October 27). Why Antidepressants Don’t Work For So Many. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 24, 2020 from

The National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, February). Depression. Retrieved

    August 24, 2020, from


Image from Queensland Brain Institute via iStockPhoto

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