What are Antidepressants?
Antidepressants are commonly prescribed medications utilized to treat various mental health conditions such as Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and others. There are various types of antidepressants, which help to address certain symptoms a patient may experience. Antidepressant medications help lessen symptoms of sadness and low mood, and can even help improve cognition and focus.
Despite these medications being prescribed every single day and millions of people taking them as a form of treating depression, there remain common myths and misconceptions that this article will attempt to debunk.
#1: “Antidepressants will Change my Personality”
Perhaps the most common misconception about antidepressant use is that the medication will change someone’s personality.
Common antidepressants, like SSRIs, work by increasing levels of serotonin. Serotonin is often referred to as “the happy hormone.” Medications that regulate levels of serotonin in the brain often help to improve mood, lessen anxiety, and help individuals find pleasure in the activities that they once enjoyed. Simply put, antidepressants improve a person’s quality of life.
Providers are well-versed in the use of antidepressants and work with patients to determine the most effective dose to treat their symptoms. While it may be true that too much serotonin can lead to blunting of emotions, speaking with a mental health provider about changes in your symptoms can help determine if you require an increase, or a decrease, in the dose of your antidepressant.
#2: “Antidepressants Will Make me Gain Weight”
For individuals with mental health conditions, weight and body image can be a large stressor for their overall wellbeing. A stigma associated with antidepressant use is that these medications will cause significant weight gain. This happens to be another myth for most commonly used antidepressants.
Antidepressant medications, particularly SSRIs, have been shown to improve conditions like Body Dysmorphic Disorder (body dysmorphia) and help regulate and alleviate symptoms associated with disordered eating, such as Binge Eating Disorder and Bulimia.
Clinical research has indicated that a patient who takes an SSRI medication to address depression is unlikely to gain more than five pounds throughout treatment. It is thought that this minimal increase in weight is caused by the remission of depressive symptoms, which often results in a patient’s appetite returning to a more “normal” baseline.
#3: “Antidepressants Will Lower my Libido”
Another misconception about antidepressant medication is that it will lower an individual’s libido or sex drive. Sexual side effects have been linked to antidepressant use, however, the evidence behind this is unclear and there is no certainty that a patient will experience these potential side effects.
SSRI medications are probably the most commonly known antidepressant to cause sexual dysfunction throughout treatment. However, decreased libido, delayed ejaculation, impotence, or the inability to get or maintain an erection, have been seen as symptoms of depression. For some patients, starting an antidepressant actually improves their sexual dysfunction.
Again, it is important to discuss any potential side effects or reactions to prescription medication with your provider. Wellbutrin is an FDA-approved antidepressant medication that actually has clinical indications to improve a patient’s sexual side effects associated with SSRI use. If you are an individual who has experienced sexual side effects with antidepressant use and to determine if Wellbutrin is a good fit for you, contact your healthcare provider.
#4: “Antidepressants Aren’t Safe During Pregnancy”
Pregnancy can be an exciting, yet overwhelming, experience. Patients who can get pregnant may be concerned about the potential effects of an antidepressant on their unborn child or the process of pregnancy altogether. A common misconception about antidepressants is that they are harmful to take while pregnant.
Many clinical trials and scientific articles have studied antidepressants, particularly SSRIs, used during pregnancy and have found that most often the benefit outweighs the risk. It is important to discuss these potential risks with your healthcare provider to ensure antidepressant therapy during pregnancy is appropriate for you. Most SSRI medications pose a low risk of harming the fetus, allowing an individual who is pregnant to continue addressing their symptoms of depression throughout and beyond their pregnancy. Another great quality of SSRIs is that they are safe to take while breastfeeding.
#5: “Antidepressants Have Negative Long-term Health Effects”
The final misconception that this article will debunk is that antidepressant medications pose a threat to an individual’s physical health if taken for long periods.
Again, SSRI medications are the mainstay of treatment for depression. These medications are well studied and there is little scientific evidence to support this claim. Clinical trials have examined long-term effects on things such as bone density, bleeding risk, and much more. Results of these trials generally indicate that SSRI use poses no greater threat to an individual’s physical health when compared to placebo.
A great way to ensure you are addressing physical health concerns is to have routine follow up with your primary care provider.
What You Can Do
If you are looking to get started on an antidepressant as a form of treatment, contact a mental health provider to discuss your options.
Written By: Mitchell Forbes, PA-C
At Clarity Clinic, we have highly trained staff who specialize in therapy and psychiatry services. To learn more about how we can support your mental health, call Clarity Clinic on (312) 815-9660 or schedule an appointment today.