There are numerous rumourss and scare stories about antidepressants changing who you fundamentally are. There may be some truth to them. Everyone must weigh up what is right for them, but I have a fear that all too often the stories stop people from taking drugs that could vastly change and improve their lives.
It’s very true that all drugs have side effects and I feel it is expected that any psychoactive drug will have some side effects on the psyche. A common issue with modern antidepressants is the feeling of being dulled and supressed generally. I recall after my post-natal depression, it took me several years to feel like I was back to my old self and. It wasn’t a nice experience, but I’m grateful to be alive and I feel my few years of ‘fuzziness’ is a small price to pay for many more years of happiness. I found an interesting study (Tang et al. 2009) of how these kinds of drugs change us in ways that might be helpful rather than harmful. It also leads me to wonder whether the fuzzy/dull feelings might be related.
The study took the well reported facts that the characteristics of neuroticism and introversion are often seen in people who are depressed. It tested to see if people on SSRI’s (modern antidepressants) might have reduced neuroticism and increased extroversion (the opposite of introversion). That participants were very depressed. The subjects were split into three groups, the experimental group were given SSRI drugs, a control group was given a placebo and another control group was given therapy instead of SSRIs. They found even when comparisons were made only between individuals who had had the same improvement in their depression, those on SSRIs had greater extroversion and less neuroticism than the control groups.
Possibly, the fuzzy thinking feeling I experienced, may come from the reduced neuroticism because that is what feeds the rumination of negative thoughts, and if that is suppressed, then there’s simply less going on up there! I also noticed in this study that personality change also happened for those taking therapy, but that change seems to have mirrored the rate of lessening depression. I believe this could give therapy a more ‘natural’ feeling than SSRIs for most people. I also note that therapy was seen to give participants a boost in extroversion independent of how much better or worse their depression became, which could mean that extroversion is not as integral to recovery as much as reduced neuroticism.
So, it seems some personality changes from SSRIs might be integral to their effectiveness, but it’s important to remember therapy can also be effective treatment. I always say, both are effective, but together they can be more effective. Lets hope the scare stories are also tempered by the facts about how SSRI’s change personality in a productive way too.
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