Major depressive disorder (commonly known as depression) has long been recognized as a debilitating condition, whose symptoms can severely hinder one’s functioning in a number of major life spheres. As a result, research centers and governmental organizations around the world have been searching for ways to treat depression. Among them is the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA, or FDA for short), which has been highlighting forms of depression therapy it has found to be both safe and effective. Read on to learn more about available, FDA-approved or cleared depression treatment options, and learn which one may be right for you.
Depression: Living in an Emotional Void
Depression is a mood disorder, whose primary symptoms are a low mood and an inability to feel joy. Additional, possible symptoms include difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbance, irritability, deep sorrow, negative self-image, hopelessness, and suicidality. It has been closely tied to sadness and grief, with theorists such as Freud describing it as the inability to access one’s emotions, leaving them empty and with a lack of life.
The FDA: Promoting Public Health
The United States Food and Drug Administration is a federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services. It is charged with protecting public health, through its oversight of such products as food, medication, tobacco products, medical devices, and cosmetics.
Under the Public Health Act, the FDA also enforces regulations pertaining to the non-food and drug-related products. These include cellular devices, lasers, and condoms.
FDA Approval vs. FDA Clearance
Medical treatments can receive recognition from the FDA as one of two titles:
- FDA Approval: Granted to groundbreaking treatments, deemed to offer patients safe and uniquely effective results.
- FDA Clearance: Granted to treatments that meet the previously set standard, so that they offer safe and effective results that roughly mimic the efficacy of other treatment options already recognized by the FDA.
Depression Treatments Under the FDA
The FDA has cited a number of treatments as being both safe and significantly effective when treating major depression. The agency relies on in-depth studies to assess the different, available options, when considering which should be granted and FDA-approved or FDA-cleared status:
These days, FDA-approved depression medication is quite diverse, with several types of antidepressants recognized for their ability to treat this condition. Among them are:
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors: SSRIs help prolong the activation period of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which has been shown to help with mood regulation. Common side effects include weight and sexual dysfunction. Due to their high efficacy and relatively tolerable side effects, SSRIs are generally considered the first-line treatment for depression.
- Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors: Developed after the release of SSRIs, SNRIs keep both serotonin and norepinephrine active for a longer period of time. Norepinephrine has also been shown to take part in mood regulation, as well as one’s ability to concentrate. SNRI side effects are generally considered to be the same as those of SSRIs, but less severe.
- Norepinephrine-Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitors: Sometimes called the “feel-good neurotransmitter,” dopamine has been found to be responsible for feeling pleasure, and is secreted as a reward of sorts, after a beneficial goal has been achieved. NDRIs may cause several side effects, such as dry mouth, headaches, or insomnia, and its tendency to increase one’s alertness causes some patients taking this type of medications to forgo coffee drinking. Wellbutrin is currently the only one NDRI available on the market; as it does not interfere with the serotonergic system, it is also the only antidepressant whose possible side effects do not include sexual dysfunction.
- Tricyclics: Tricyclics block the reabsorption of norepinephrine. Though this type of antidepressant has been shown to be quite effective, it can cause more severe side effects, such as blurred vision or increased heart rate. For this reason, it is usually considered a medication for treatment-resistant depression, after SSRIs or SNRIs have failed to produce a significant decrease of symptoms.
- Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors: MAOIs help block the breakdown processes of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Like tricyclics, this family of antidepressants is now less commonly prescribed, due to adverse side effects, which include increased heart rate.
- Esketamine Nasal Spray: FDA-approved in conjunction with oral antidepressant medication, esketamine nasal spray supplies a variation of the anesthetic ketamine through the patient’s airways. For depression, it is FDA-approved in treatment-resistant cases. Possible side effects of this medication include sedation, dissociation, and nausea.
A Medical Device Treatment for Depression
- Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation: TMS has been FDA-cleared in cases of treatment-resistance. It helps regulate the neural activity of brain structures found to take part in the appearance of depressive symptoms, and particularly the bilateral prefrontal cortex. A noninvasive treatment, TMS does not necessitate the use of anesthesia, and does not cause any severe or long-lasting side effects. It can also be combined with any type of antidepressant medication, for a more efficacious, overall treatment plan.
Beyond the FDA: Psychodynamic Therapy and Depression
In addition to treatments recognized by the FDA, it is worth mentioning that another form of treatment has been found to offer safe and effective depression symptom relief: psychodynamic therapy. Long acknowledged for its ability to alleviate depression and facilitate greater well-being, psychodynamics aims to offer a secure, therapeutic environment, in which patient and therapist can discuss the life leading up to, and existing alongside their depression.
Over time, as a bond of trust is hopefully formed between the two, psychodynamic therapy can begin to unravel the patient’s formative relationships, their self-image, worldview, and other defining features in their life. As the patient gains a deeper understanding of their life as a whole, they are also able to better understand their own depression. With aspects of their condition that had previously alluded them then brought to light, they are given less overwhelming proportions, and placed within a more manageable context of the patient’s experiences. As a result of this, many patients recognize that their time in therapy helped them accept the pain they have gone through, allowing them to view their depression as part of what they have experienced, instead of their defining feature.
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