How Antidepressants Work vs. TMS

Do you or a loved one struggle with depression? 

There are several types of treatment that doctors and psychiatrists recommend for depression. They often go in different stages.

First, they may recommend therapy. CBT (or cognitive-behavioral therapy) is often the first option for people who are seeking treatment.

If the patient needs more help, many doctors recommend trying antidepressants to see if they help. People with treatment-resistant depression don’t always benefit from these medications, though.

After these efforts haven’t worked, some people choose to try TMS. TMS is transcranial magnetic stimulation. It’s a non-drug approach to treating depression. 

If you’re interested in receiving treatment for your depression but you’re not sure what’s right for you, we’re here to help. Keep reading to learn all about how both TMS and antidepressant medications work to help you feel better.

What Are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants are medications that are supposed to help the patient manage their depression. They come in various classes, and it’s normal for patients to need a trial-and-error process before they find the proper medication for them. 

Most psychiatrists recommend that someone tries antidepressant medication before moving on to more intensive or unique treatment styles.

How Do Antidepressants Work?

Because there are several kinds of antidepressants, they all operate in different (but similar) ways. They focus on three primary neurotransmitters: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. 

Antidepressants aim to increase the availability of these neurotransmitters in the brain. 

Here are the main kinds of antidepressants (though there are others) and how they function.


SSRIs are the most popular kind of antidepressant. SSRI stands for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.

It is one of the newer classes of antidepressants, and it’s often considered the most effective. It works by blocking the reuptake of serotonin in the brain so it’s more available.

SSRIs are also popular for anxiety, eating disorders, and other common mental health conditions. 

They consider SSRIs to be safe when taken the right way. They can cause nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and sexual dysfunction. Many people report emotional numbness.


SNRIs are similar to SSRIs with one primary difference: Norepinephrine.

SNRI stands for serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. Like SSRIs, SNRIs prevent serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake, making it more effective for certain patients. 

They may cause nausea, fatigue, and constipation. 


Several antidepressants are hard to classify. They may be alone in their class.

The first and most popular is Wellbutrin, an NDRI (norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor). People reported feeling more alert and energized with this medication.

Trazodone is a SARI (serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor). This should stop serotonin receptors, so serotonin is more available within the body. Though it’s an antidepressant, it’s sedating, so it’s typically less desirable.

Remeron is a noradrenergic antagonist. It blocks the release of adrenaline, so people who experience depression triggered by stress may find it helpful. 

Who Are Antidepressants For? 

Antidepressants are the first line of defense when it comes to depression. If someone is reasonably healthy, has no thoughts of suicide, and doesn’t struggle with side effects, antidepressants are a good choice.

It’s important to talk to a doctor if you experience severe side effects, are pregnant, or are taking other medications that may not work well with antidepressants. 

What Is TMS?

TMS is a relatively new method for treating depression. It’s FDA-approved and non-invasive. 

It stands for transcranial magnetic stimulation. In other words, it uses magnets to stimulate nerves in the brain to help alleviate depression. While it sounds scary, it’s safe and has very few side effects. 

How Does TMS Work?

When you go in for TMS treatment sessions, the doctor will place an electromagnetic coil against your scalp near your forehead. 

This coil emits magnetic waves that feel like taps or pulses. These waves should help to stimulate nerve cells in the part of your brain that controls your mood. 

It is a painless process, though some patients may encounter some discomfort while they’re adapting to it. 

Each session is about 20 minutes long, five days a week, and patients receive treatment for 4-6 weeks (in comparison to long-term treatment through medication management).

If the patient wants to continue traditional treatment, TMS can work alongside therapy and medication. 

Who Is TMS For?

TMS is perfect for anyone who has already tried conventional depression treatments. Many clinics require that patients try several antidepressant medications before trying TMS. 

TMS is particularly popular amongst people with treatment-resistant depression.

With that in mind, TMS isn’t for everyone. 

People with metal implants in their heads aren’t suitable for TMS due to the magnets. It is also true of people who have mental health conditions. Conditions that are contraindicated for TMS include bipolar disorder and certain types of brain damage. 

If you experience treatment-resistant depression and want to see if TMS is a good solution, talk to a doctor.

TMS and Antidepressants: What’s the Right Depression Treatment for You?

Antidepressants are helpful to most people who experience depression. While finding the right medication is difficult, it’s helpful if your brain is wired for it.

If you have treatment-resistant depression, however, this might not be true. While therapy and antidepressants can do some of the work, you may benefit from TMS therapy as an addition to your treatment plan or as a replacement for your current medication.

If this is something that you’d like to try, we’d like to meet you.

At Pelorus TMS, our team of professionals want to help you heal. Contact us to set up an appointment to see if TMS is a good treatment option for you.

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