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SSRI Medication: Knowledge, Myths, and Truths

With natural remedies in vogue and therapy losing some of its stigma, one treatment for depression still makes some people wary: medication. The most prominent medications for depression are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Inaccurate hearsay and cultural narratives about these medications can cause undue hesitation in trying them. Today we’d like to help clear the air!

How Do SSRIs Work?

SSRIs work by manipulating the brain’s processes around serotonin, a naturally occurring chemical in the brain that – among other things – helps regulate mood. As the brain sends messages around, around 10% of this serotonin is lost, while the other 90% is absorbed back into neurotransmitters. This process is called reuptake.

SSRIs lessen the effects of this process by delaying that absorption process so that the serotonin sticks around longer. This is an oversimplification – and other effects are at play – but that’s the basic rundown of how SSRIs can make you happier.


Like any medication, SSRIs have some undesirable side effects and the potential for abuse. But many of these effects are exaggerated. Here are some examples.

  • You will never be able to get off SSRIs once you start. This myth comes from the (sometimes very prominent) withdrawal effects of SSRIs, which can include serious mood swings. That said, no good doctor will make you go cold turkey. Withdrawal is always tapered, and doctors and family members are there to check in on you as you go through the process.
  • SSRIs make depression worse. There are conflicting (but still relevant) studies of how SSRIs can actually increase suicidality in children and adolescents. This effect is almost a non-issue for adults, and certain medications carry a lower risk. Any child on SSRIs must be carefully monitored by a doctor and maintain open communication with their parent or guardian.
  • SSRI side effects aren’t worth it. Some side effects of SSRIs can be a bummer, namely their interactions with alcohol and occasional sexual dysfunction. However, these effects can dissipate over time, and lifestyle changes (such as moderation of alcohol and use of sexual aids) can lessen these effects. For severely depressed people, these effects are also small compared to their symptoms.

While SSRIs are effective, they work better when paired with therapy to establish long-term behavior change. Azevedo Family Psychology provides therapy to patients across the Triangle. Contact us today and let’s get started!

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