Is Strattera Linked to Depression?

In 2006, Strattera (atomoxetine) became the first nonstimulant medication approved to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults. In 2008, it was approved for use in children ages 6 and older, Psycom publishes.

The medication can change the way a person thinks and feels, and it has been linked to increased suicidal thoughts in children. Strattera can also exacerbate symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder, or other psychiatric disorders that are already present.

Strattera’s Method of Action

Most of the drugs designed to treat ADHD are stimulants that speed up central nervous system functions to boost alertness, concentration abilities, and focus. Strattera works differently.

ADDitude magazine explains that Strattera is a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), which means it elevates levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine (a chemical messenger involved in the stress response) in the brain.

When first studied, Strattera was aimed at treating mood disorders since it was believed to work much like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are often effective for regulating depression. However, Strattera does not interact with dopamine or GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) receptors or levels in the brain, the journal Psychopharmacology reports. This may make it less effective as a mood-stabilizing medication. Instead, it is prescribed to increase attention spans and treat ADHD symptoms.
Strattera has been linked to suicidal thoughts and actions in children. While it is not believed to cause depression directly, Strattera may increase depressive thoughts and exacerbate an existing mood disorder.



Correlation Between Depression and Strattera

In clinical trials published in the prescribing information by the manufacturer of Strattera Eli Lilly, there was an increased rate of suicidal thoughts in children between the ages of 6 and 12 taking the medication compared to those taking a placebo. There was one attempt at suicide, but no suicides occurred during the trial. The risk of suicidal thoughts in these children was equated to be 0.4 percent or 5 out of 1,357 in the trial.

When Strattera was tested on adults being treated for ADHD or even those using it for major depressive disorder (MDD), there was no increase in suicidal behaviors or ideations.
These were short-term studies, and it is not known if taking the medication long term may have different results.

In short, there is some link between Strattera and mood changes. Some of the side effects of Strattera, as published by the Mayo Clinic, include changes in behavior, unusual thoughts, agitation, irritability, aggression, hostility, and even possible hallucinations as well as suicidal thoughts. Because Strattera manipulates brain chemistry, neurotransmitter transmission, production, and absorption are impacted.

Strattera and Depression

Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers produced and used by the brain to tell a person how to feel and think. Using a mind-altering drug can impact moods and potentially lead to mood swings, including possible depressive thoughts.

Risk Factors for Strattera and Depression

If a person already struggles with a mental health issue or has a family history of mental illness, including depression, bipolar disorder, or suicide, Strattera may potentially elevate existing symptoms and possibly even cause new ones to manifest. In this manner, Strattera may cause depression but likely only in a person who has a pre-existing risk factor for the disorder.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) warns that the risk of suicide increases when a person struggles with depression or a psychiatric disorder. Since Strattera can elevate suicidal thoughts, this risk may be amplified if an underlying mental condition is already present.


Depression is a heritable disorder, and family history of the illness can raise the odds that a direct relative will also struggle with it. The journal PLoS ONE reports that MDD is considered to be about 40 percent heritable with a genetic link.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) publishes that people should be screened for bipolar disorder before taking Strattera, as the medication can potentially cause the onset of a manic episode. Bipolar disorder includes significant mood swings between depression and mania. Strattera may influence these mood swings.
Other medications can interact with Strattera. These interactions may add to depressive symptoms and potential health concerns.

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Minimizing Possible Depression While Taking Strattera

To avoid possible depression and extreme mood swings related to Strattera use, talk to your doctor. Be honest about any personal or familial history of mental illness or suicidal thoughts or actions.
Disclose any other medications or supplements you may be taking. Continue to keep your medical provider apprised of any potential changes in behavior or actions once you start taking Strattera.
It can take a month or two for Strattera to really work in the brain. Look for mood, cognitive, and physical changes the entire time you are taking the medication.
While Strattera is a medication for improving symptoms of ADHD, behavioral therapies are often used to manage the disorder. Therapeutic techniques can teach healthy coping mechanisms, tools for managing stress and ways to minimize intense mood swings.


Here are additional tips for managing depression while taking Strattera:


Nutrition can play a role in physical health, which can influence moods. By eating foods that are rich in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, and low in refined sugars and saturated fats, you can literally fuel your brain. Avoid alcohol, as it can interact negatively with Strattera.


Physical exertion can release endorphins that can make you feel good in a natural way. Participating in something physical helps to focus the mind on other things. Exercise can be a great stress reliever.


Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time each morning can help you to get better sleep. Sleep is essential to brain health and can help you to think more clearly. This will help you better cope with stress and anything else that might come your way.


Aim for activities that keep you busy and happy. Finding a creative outlet, such as music, dance, writing, art, or another type of hobby that requires concentration and focus, can relieve stress and provide a release for pent-up emotions.


When your mood is low, reach out and talk to loved ones. This kind of personal connection can bring fulfillment.


Massage therapy, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, or chiropractic care can all be supportive. All these methods can help to alleviate stress, either through mindfulness or physical manipulation.

If you are taking Strattera, pay attention to how you are feeling and recognize if there are any changes. Talk to your medical provider about the rewards and risks of the medication and how to best manage use. In some cases, positive lifestyle changes can help to manage depression.

Most important, take your medication exactly as prescribed.