How long will it take for your antidepressants to work?

A doctor may prescribe an antidepressant if depression or anxiety gets in the way of daily life. These drugs can also treat other mental health issues, nerve damage, chronic pain, and trouble sleeping.

But taking an antidepressant doesn’t mean your symptoms will go away overnight or even soon. This might be frustrating — and cause some people to stop taking their medicine before it can work.

If you’re starting an antidepressant, it’s crucial to know how long it takes for antidepressants to work. Sticking with it will help you control your mental and physical health issues.

How Long Does It Take for Antidepressants to Work?

You may feel better within the first week of starting your antidepressant. Or you may not feel anything at all at first. That doesn’t mean it’s not working.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, antidepressants usually take four to eight weeks to work fully. Some people may take up to 12 weeks to feel the full benefits.

You may feel the side effects of the antidepressant before your mental health issue improves. Common side effects of antidepressants include headache, upset stomach, or sexual problems.

Most side effects are short-lived and mild. They often go away as your body gets used to the antidepressant.

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Why Does It Take Time for Antidepressants to Work?

Not everyone responds to antidepressants in the same way. An antidepressant that works for someone you know may not work for you. Some may cause different, fewer, or more side effects.

The goal is to find a treatment that relieves symptoms the most and causes the fewest side effects. To reduce the risk of side effects, your doctor may start you at a lower dose. This starting dose may be lower than you need to manage your symptoms.

Your doctor will slowly increase your dosage as your body gets used to the medicine. But until you reach an effective dose, you may not get the drugs’ full benefits.

If the first antidepressant doesn’t relieve your symptoms, another one might help. Your doctor may adjust your dosage, prescribe a different drug, or add another medicine to help your treatment work better.

Finding the right medicine at the right dose can take many tries. With each change, the clock resets on how long it will take to know if it works. The waiting to see if it works starts over again.

Which Antidepressants Work Fast?

Can antidepressants work immediately? Most don’t. But there is one that does.

It’s esketamine intranasal spray therapy or EsKIT (Spravato). The Food and Drug Administration approved it in 2019 for two mental health issues:

  • Major depressive disorder with acute suicidal ideation or behavior.
  • Treatment-resistant depression.

Treatment-resistant depression is when symptoms do not improve after trying at least two antidepressant therapies for the suggested period. Doctors may also use EsKIT during emergencies to reduce suicidal behavior or thoughts.

EsKIT provides fast relief from symptoms of severe depression, including suicidal thoughts. You may feel depression symptoms lift within a couple of hours of taking it.

You can’t take EsKIT at home. To get it, you need to go to an FDA-approved treatment center. The treatment you spray into your nose takes five to 10 minutes.

You will then stay at the center for two hours so that they can watch you for any side effects. EsKIT therapy isn’t a one-time thing. For symptom control, you will get EsKIT twice a week for four weeks, then once weekly.

The center will slowly taper you off the medicine as you get better. To keep you feeling better after the treatments, you’ll take an oral antidepressant while getting EsKIT therapy.

How Long Should You Stay on An Antidepressant?

How long you will stay on an antidepressant depends on why you are taking it and how bad your symptoms are.

To treat depression, you should expect to take antidepressants for six months or longer. That’s what most mental health experts suggest, according to the American Psychiatric Association. If you are at high risk of relapse, you may need to stay on them for several years or life.

Signs My Antidepressant is Working

You will know if your antidepressant is working if you have fewer symptoms or have symptoms less often. Signs your antidepressants are working include:

  • Sleeping better or feeling well-rested.
  • Having a better appetite.
  • Feeling more energy.
  • Feeling like you can focus or think better.

If you’re taking antidepressants for a mood disorder, you may feel these benefits first. It may take longer for your mood to lift.

When Should You Talk to Your Doctor?

When you start a new antidepressant, it’s vital to check in with your doctor. Most doctors will plan a follow-up visit several weeks after starting your medicine to see how you’re doing.

It’s important to follow your doctor’s orders on taking your antidepressant. Take it for as long as they suggest before asking if it’s working for you.

Not all antidepressants work for all people. If you’re not feeling any better after your doctor’s suggested time frame, let them know.

If side effects get in the way of daily life, you should call them sooner. They can suggest ways to help manage the side effects. They may also adjust your medicines to a lower dose to see if that helps.

Don’t stop taking an antidepressant without talking to your doctor. A sudden stop can cause withdrawal side effects, sometimes severe.

APA practice guidelines suggest tapering off antidepressants over at least several weeks. Your doctor will help you wean off of your antidepressants slowly and safely.

If you live in Allegheny County and need help right away or need counseling, get in touch with resolve Crisis Services. They are open all day and night, every day. Their hotline number is 1-888-796-8226, and their walk-in center is 333 North Braddock Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15208.

If you are thinking of suicide or self-harm, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. You can also chat with them online at For emergencies, call 911.

For more information, call UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital at 412-624-1000 or 1-877-624-4100 (toll-free).

Mental Health Medications. National Institute of Mental Health. Link.

Depression. American Psychiatric Association. Link.

How Hard Is It to Stop Taking Antidepressants. American Psychological Association. April 2020. Link.

FDA approves new nasal spray medication for treatment-resistant depression; available only at a certified doctor's office or clinic. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. March 2019. Link.

About UPMC

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