Floyd Godfrey, PhD


How Antidepressants Work in the Brain

Floyd Godfrey, PhD

Antidepressants are among the most commonly prescribed medications worldwide, reflecting their crucial role in managing depression and other mood disorders. Understanding how these drugs function within the brain sheds light on their importance and informs both practitioners and patients about their therapeutic potential.

Mechanisms of Antidepressants

Antidepressants work by altering the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain—chemicals that communicate between brain cells. Various classes of these medications affect different neurotransmitters. For instance, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the most widely prescribed antidepressants, increase serotonin levels by blocking its reabsorption into the neurons. This accumulation of serotonin in the synaptic gap helps improve mood and emotional response. Similarly, other types of antidepressants, like tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), target additional neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine, each contributing differently to mood regulation and emotional stability.

Temporary Interventions

While antidepressants can be life-changing, they are often best used as a temporary measure within a broader therapeutic context. The efficacy of antidepressants varies, and they do not address the underlying psychological triggers of depression. Instead, they provide a symptomatic relief that enables patients to engage more effectively in psychotherapy and other treatment modalities. According to Kirsch and Sapirstein (1998), while antidepressants significantly help in treating severe cases, their primary role in mild to moderate depression might be to facilitate a more stable emotional state conducive to therapy.

Integrating Medication with Therapy

For many, the integration of medication and psychotherapy offers the best recovery outcomes. This approach harnesses the biological effects of antidepressants to stabilize mood while employing therapeutic techniques to address the underlying emotional and cognitive aspects of mental disorders. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), for instance, is a common psychotherapeutic approach that effectively complements antidepressant treatment by helping patients alter negative thought patterns and behaviors contributing to their condition.

Encouragement for Recovery

Understanding the role and function of antidepressants is crucial for both mental health professionals and those they help. While these medications can provide significant relief, they are most effective when used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes psychological therapies. With the right support and treatment plan, recovery and improved quality of life are achievable goals.

Floyd Godfrey PhD is a Certified Mental Health Coach and has been guiding clients since 2000. He currently speaks and provides consulting and mental health coaching across the globe. To learn more about his services, please visit his website: www.FloydGodfrey.com.


Kirsch, I., & Sapirstein, G. (1998). Listening to Prozac but hearing placebo: A meta-analysis of antidepressant medication. Prevention & Treatment, 1(1), 0002a. https://doi.org/10.1037/1522-3736.1.1.12a


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