5 Common Medications for College Students With Clinical Depression
Why you can trust Lightfully Behavioral Health?

Lightfully’s professional culture is designed to keep everyone connected, motivated and nutured. Why is this so important? We believe the way we treat our employees is how we show up for clients – through encouragement, honesty, and compassion.

Clinically Reviewed 
Reading Time: 4 minutes

There’s nothing unusual about feeling sad leading up to your first weeks away at college. Your first semester, finals week, winter break and the start of class each fall are all times when you might notice strong emotions. Academic pressure, missing your friends and family at home, or feeling like you’re not where you should be can all make you feel down. College is an important time to learn strategies for managing stress and avoiding burnout.

There are a few different reasons you might notice depression or anxiety symptoms in your college years. Some people have a genetic predisposition for depression. And taking on adult responsibilities for the first time is a big milestone in your life. If you experience symptoms for at least two weeks, you may have clinical depression or major depressive disorder (MDD). Keep an eye out for red flags. These may be changes in sleep patterns and appetite, not wanting to socialize and difficulty concentrating. 

If you’re having any thoughts of self-harm or suicide, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988.

This article will provide you with some information about depression medications that are often prescribed for college students. It’s not meant to be taken as medical advice. Take the time to prepare any questions you have before talking with a prescriber. And be sure to follow up with a health care professional if you think of something else or if you start experiencing side effects.

How common is antidepressant use among college students?

Most people who have a mental health condition experience symptoms by the age of 25. So, the college years are when a lot of people try psychiatric medication for the first time. Approximately 20% of college students are taking some kind of antidepressant. 

There’s also a larger trend of more college students taking psychiatric medication than in previous years. Use of psychiatric medication doubled among university students between 2007 and 2018-2019. As of 2021, 1 out of 4 college students had taken psychiatric medication in the last year. And last, college students today are more likely to be prescribed more than one category of psychiatric medication to treat multiple conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD.

5 antidepressants most commonly prescribed to college students

When it comes to medication for depression, it’s important that you regularly monitor how they affect your body. You should also follow up with health care provider to ensure that they are being used in the safest manner.

Medication tends to be more effective as part of a more comprehensive treatment plan. A combination of antidepressants and psychotherapy is usually the most effective treatment for depression.

Here are five of the most commonly prescribed depression medications for college students:

  • Sertraline (Zoloft) — This selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor is used to treat a range of depression- and anxiety-related conditions. An SSRI is meant to boost the level of serotonin in your brain, which affects your mood. Zoloft is one of the most effective antidepressants with minimal side effects.

  • Escitalopram (Lexapro) — This is another popular SSRI for first-time antidepressant users. It has a high ratio of effectiveness with minimal side effects. It can be taken for both depression and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac) — This is a second-generation antidepressant. That means that it was introduced in the 80s. It’s often recommended for first-time depression clients. It’s also used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder and bulimia nervosa.

  • Citalopram (Celexa) — This SSRI is usually prescribed for depression. However, it’s commonly prescribed for anxiety as well. 

  • Venlafaxine (Effexor) — Venlafaxine is a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, or SNRI. It blocks the reabsorption of both serotonin and norepinephrine, which influences our “fight or flight” response. Effexor treats depression, anxiety disorders and nerve pain. It’s also sometimes prescribed off-label for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), OCD, ADHD, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), migraine prevention and fibromyalgia.

Medication for depression is most effective when taken as prescribed by a healthcare professional. It should also be taken in conjunction with other treatments, such as therapy.

Finding an antidepressant that works for you

If you and your healthcare provider determine that medication is the right option for you, you may have to try a couple of different ones before you find one that works. It can take up to eight weeks for antidepressants to be fully effective. However, you may start noticing results in one to two weeks. You might notice some mild side effects in the first couple of weeks. You may experience sleepiness or drowsiness, nausea, decreased sexual function, indigestion, and sweating. If you notice any serious side effects, contact your prescriber right away. Monitoring should be a priority. It involves regular check-ins with a healthcare provider to discuss symptoms and medication adherence. You can also discuss any changes in mood or behavior.

Antidepressant use, especially in the early stages of treatment or when the dosage is changed, can sometimes be associated with an increase in suicidal thoughts or behavior, particularly in young adults. However, it’s important to note that this risk is generally low, and for most people, the benefits of antidepressant treatment outweigh the risks.

Explore all your options for depression treatment

Medication is most effective when it’s combined with other treatments for your depression symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy is recommended for a wide variety of mental health conditions. It comes with some specific benefits for college students, too. UC students can get free online therapy or attend our Lightfully U virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP) for free. 

We highly recommend talking with a trusted friend or two about any depression symptoms you’re noticing. Peer supporters are critical for reminding you that you’re not alone, and they can help in ways that a therapist can’t. For instance, they can join you for activities off campus on the weekends. Giving and receiving support can increase your feelings of self-efficacy and make you feel like part of a community. If you’re new to conversations about mental health, our weekly support group is a great place to start. 

If you’re looking for a comprehensive treatment program that includes multiple therapies and medication management, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. You can always reach out to us with any questions you have. We’re here to help.

Connect with Admissions

Do I have Major Depressive Disorder?

Related Content