Depression Meds: Be a Wise Consumer


If you watch TV, you have likely seen commercials for the drugs Cymbalta and Abilify. While the wisdom of advertising antipsychotics or antidepressants is questionable to many in the mental health profession, the advertising is already out there. So, we might as well inform ourselves about these medications.


Abilify (Aripiprazole) is an antipsychotic drug that also has antidepressant properties. It is primarily used to alleviate symptoms of schizophrenia (i.e., hallucinations, delusions). Abilify is also used as an antidepressant sidekick medication. If an antidepressant does not work well enough on its own, adding Abilify (like the commercial says) can help.

The brain mechanism Abilify works on is the neurotransmitter dopamine, by causing dopamine receptors to function more effectively. This helps people manage symptoms such as irritability, mood swings, and aggression. The drug has also been FDA OK’d for treatment of severe bipolar I manic episodes, as a maintenance drug for bipolar I, and to reduce autistic disorder irritability.

Adults who have been on an antidepressant for at least six weeks without benefit may be given the option of taking Abilify. The TV commercial is deceiving though since an intelligent umbrella does not appear when taking the medication.

Common Side Effects of Abilify Are:

  • agitation, shaking, and anxiety
  • headache, blurred vision, light-headedness, and vertigo
  • tiredness and insomnia
  • nausea and vomiting; constipation
  • sexual dysfunction


Cymbalta (Duloxetine) is a serotonin-norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitor, or SNRI for short. Serotonin, maybe the most famous of all our neurotransmitters, has a role in mood regulation, pain perception, gastrointestinal function, and other miscellaneous bio-mechanisms.

Norepinephrine does double duty as a neurotransmitter and a hormone. It works its magic mainly in our brain stem (locus coeruleus), and plays a staring role in our body’s stress response, perception of pain, emotions, moods, thinking, and blood pressure.

Cymbalta may be involved in reducing cytokine inflammation in our nervous system. A cytokine is a small protein that has something to do with communication between cells. Cytokine inflammation may be the trigger for depression onset. Cymbalta also has pain relieving qualities helpful with fibromyalgia, diabetic neuropathy, and bone pain.

Common Side Effects of Cymbalta Are:

  • sleepiness or insomnia
  • headache and nausea
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • sexual sluggishness

Anyone under the age of 24 should be closely monitored for suicidal thoughts after starting on Cymbalta.

A Word About Medications

Although many people are helped by taking antidepressants and antipsychotics, none of the medications are effective if people hang on to their bad or ineffective lifestyle habits. Medication combined with good nutrition, exercise, and possibly professional counseling, can make symptoms of depression most manageable.

Just like someone with diabetes may take insulin but still needs to regulate what they eat, those with mental health issues need to make behavior changes. For example, even if there is more serotonin and dopamine floating about your brain because of medication, it will be marginally effective if you constantly think negative, defeatist thoughts. It matters how you think.

"The chief cause of stress is reality." ~ Lily Tomlin


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