Fighting Depression

Part of the Brain: The Inside Story exhibition.

Millions of Americans take antidepressant drugs that alter how the brain processes serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked to feelings of serenity and optimism. These drugs, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), increase levels of serotonin in the synapse by blocking its removal. What happens to the brain when an antidepressant is introduced? What other practices can be implemented to combat depression?

How it Works

While scientists still do not fully understand how SSRIs relieve depression, they know that these drugs increase the serotonin signal and lead to many long-lasting changes in neurons. Normally, when serotonin is released into the synapse, some serotonin reaches receptors in the second cell, but the remaining serotonin is taken back up into the first cell. When an antidepressant is introduced, however, the drug blocks serotonin from returning to the cell that released it. Excess serotonin stays in the synapse longer, allowing for more serotonin to reach receptors.

Antidepressant drugs have helped many people--but for others they offer no relief. But any activity that changes your mood does so by changing your brain chemistry. Talk therapy, physical exercise, fulfilling personal relationships, and successful achievements all change the levels of mood-altering chemicals in our brains.