We’re not going to sugarcoat it: there’s a lot of nonsense information out there about what antidepressants do and don’t do. People who could benefit from the medication can often be skeptical about taking it because of the fears created by the misconceptions.
In a research paper published in The Pharmaceutical Journal, Prof. Stephen Bazire concluded that antidepressants are still the best treatment for depression.
“Antidepressants are effective regardless of a patient’s language, IQ, race and background,” Prof. Bazire wrote.
“Depression is dangerous and harmful to the brain and antidepressants significantly reduce relapse… [and] reduce the risk of suicide in adults.”
We spoke to Dr Laila Paruk to unpack some of the most common myths and misconceptions about antidepressants.
MYTH 1: Antidepressants are addictive
Dr Laila Paruk: Antidepressants are not addictive. Addiction is characterised by two things: tolerance and withdrawals. Tolerance means that you need more of the same thing over time to get the same effect, which is not the case with antidepressants. Withdrawals are physical or mental symptoms that occur when you stop taking a drug and this is also not what happens with antidepressants.
MYTH 2: They will make you ‘high’
DLP: Antidepressants are not known to have a stimulant effect at all. The structure of an antidepressant is not similar at all to that of a stimulant. So you will not feel ‘high’ when taking them.
MYTH 3: They will change your personality
DLP: The intention of treating patients with antidepressants is never to change their personality, but to improve their quality of life. If someone feels like their personality is changing, it will be something associated with the choice of medication, the dosage and the diagnosis. All antidepressants do is improve symptoms of depression and anxiety; they don’t change personality.
MYTH 4: They are meant to be taken forever
DLP: The guidelines for the treatment of depression and anxiety suggest that for the first episode of depression and anxiety, a patient is put on treatment for one year. Repeated episodes will mean a patient is on treatment for longer. But the guidelines do not recommend that patients be on them forever; it requires regular monitoring and assessment of symptoms and consultations with your doctor around when and how to come off the medication.
MYTH 5: Taking an antidepressant is all you need for depression and anxiety
DLP: The guidelines don’t advocate the use of antidepressants alone; they recommend the use of the medication along with therapy and other psychosocial interventions. The idea of the medication is that it’s a part of a whole basket of treatments – all of which are designed to improve a person’s quality of life and coping skills.
MYTH 6: They are not safe for pregnancy
DLP: The impact of antidepressants on the foetus is variable depending on the kind of medication and the amount of medication. However, we always look at treating pregnant women in terms of their risk profile, which is on a patient-specific basis.
It’s recommended that if a pregnant woman is on antidepressants and she’s stable on them, she should remain on them throughout her pregnancy. It’s far riskier to have an untreated maternal depression and anxiety patient.
MYTH 7: An antidepressant will have a negative impact on my sex life
DLP: Antidepressants do have side effects that affect all stages of the sexual cycle, from arousal to ejaculation. But not all antidepressants have the same effect. Just because a patient experienced certain side effects on one antidepressant doesn’t mean that they’ll experience the same side effects on another.
Depression has a negative impact on libido, and because antidepressants ease these symptoms, they (in certain instances) could actually improve one’s sex life.