Common Medications and Treatments for Major Depressive Disorder

Major depressive disorder is typically treated with antidepressant medications and/or psychotherapy (counseling). Antidepressant medications work by changing the balance of certain chemicals in the brain, which helps improve mood. The table below describes the common medications used to treat major depression. Psychotherapy and other therapies that may be included in depression treatment are described below in this patient education guide.


Drug Category How it works
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) These drugs work by blocking a receptor in the brain that absorbs serotonin, a brain chemical known to influence mood.
Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) These drugs work by blocking the absorption of serotonin and norepinephrine (another brain chemical that affects mood) in the brain.
Bupropion This drug works by acting on the chemical dopamine in the brain.

It does not fit into any specific drug category.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), tricyclic antidepressants, and tetracyclic antidepressants These older classes of antidepressants are prescribed less often than SSRIs, SNRIs, and bupropion. They typically cause more side effects; however they do work well for some people.




Psychotherapy (also called counseling or talk therapy) - This therapy involves talking about your depressive moods, attitudes, and life stresses or problems with a professional therapist. The therapist helps you develop new ways to think about and deal with difficult situations and helps you develop ways to cope with your feelings. Therapy gives people tools to help fight feelings of depression, low self-esteem, anger, fear, anxiety, shyness, or panic.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) - This treatment may be recommended for severe depression that does not respond to medication or therapy. ECT involves delivering an electrical shock to the brain for 1-2 seconds in an attempt to alter the release of brain chemicals involved in depression.

Alternative therapiesSome studies suggest that St. John’s wort may relieve symptoms of milder depression, but it has NOT been shown effective for treating major depression. It is important to talk to your doctor before taking any herbal supplements, particularly St. John’s wort, because it can interact with some medications.

In addition to standard depression therapies, the following habits may help manage depression symptoms:

  • Eating a nutritious diet
  • Exercising on a regular basis
  • Avoiding alcohol and illicit drugs
  • Avoiding too much caffeine