Can antidepressants change your personality? With 20% of people developing depression in their lifetime, it's important we bust these myths!
Find out the truth behind these myths about depression…
While the stigma around mental health is lifting, there’s still a fair bit of confusion around what depression actually is.
With 20% of people developing depression sometime during their lifetime, it’s important we bop these myths on their head (WHO).
Everyone feels sad at different times about different things. But when we talk about depression, we’re talking about something that is much more serious than just being sad.
People often feel sad because of an upsetting experience or memory, but it comes and goes. Depression, on the other hand, is a chronic illness associated with physical differences in the brain, a person’s brain chemistry, and hormonal imbalances (Mayo).
When you have depression, you don’t necessarily even feel sad – you may feel irritable, tense, empty, or simply numb.
Apart from the way it affects a person’s mood, depression can also cause many other symptoms, such as sleep issues, poor concentration, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
While it can be difficult to see someone wrestle with depression, keep in mind they are not feeling this way by choice – and they can’t solve it simply by changing their attitude. So telling a person to just “snap out of it”, “get a grip”, or to “cheer up”, is more harmful than helpful.
Just like any illness, depression requires suitable treatment, whether it’s medication, psychotherapy, or alternative therapies. For people with depression, having a support network who understands this is key.
Sometimes depression is triggered by a major event, such as a death, job loss, or break-up. But it’s quite often not caused by any external event at all.
Many people who have depression can’t even pinpoint when their depression first began. Unfortunately it’s something that can happen to anyone, at any time, with no rhyme or reason – but it’s also something that can be successfully treated.
Depression is a complex condition, and it’s different for everyone. For this reason, treatment needs to be personalised too – and medication isn’t the only option.
While it’s true that anti-depressants can help some people, others respond better to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – and in fact for up to 80% of people, a combination of the two has the best results (WHO).
Also, things like healthy food, exercise regimes, meditation, and music therapy can have a big impact too.
Some people find a treatment approach that works for them right away, but others take a while to hit the right formula. It’s important to be patient, and remember that there are many treatment options available.
Older research suggested quite a strong hereditary link with depression, but more recent research states that while having a parent or grandparent with depression does slightly increase your risk, it’s only by about 10-15% (Psych Central).
Of course, it’s good to be mindful of hereditary factors, but really, having a family history of depression doesn’t guarantee you’ll develop it too.
Antidepressants aren’t intended to change your personality, they simply help you feel like yourself again.
They won’t make you euphoric, but if taken correctly, can help you function more easily – whether that means sleeping better, socialising more easily, or feeling stronger and more resilient.
While occasionally people do experience loss of emotion while on anti-depressants, this isn’t the norm – and it can be addressed by switching to a different type of anti-depressant.
Some people don’t want to start taking antidepressants because they think they’ll become “hooked”. Rest assured, these medications are not addictive in the way that alcohol or nicotine can be – however some people do find that they may have difficulty managing if they stop taking the medication, so they can feel as if they are addicted to it.
Most people who take anti-depressants for a first-time episode of depression do need to take them continuously for 6-9 months, but not necessarily for their lifetime.
However when it comes down to it, some opt to take anti-depressants for the short-term, some stick to a consistent schedule for many years, and others recover with no medication at all.
This is a particularly dangerous myth – because, just like women, men can develop depression at any time.
Unfortunately, many men hold onto the belief that depression is a kind of weakness, and shouldn’t be spoken about (much less treated). This reluctance actually means depression is even more dangerous for men than women, as they’re less likely to seek help. In fact, suicides are most prevalent amongst middle-aged Caucasian men – and most have a direct link to depression.
In a nutshell, depression does not discriminate, and can affect you no matter how strong you are. It’s nothing to hide, or feel ashamed of – and there are lots of support and treatment options available.
If you need to talk to someone about depression or a crisis in your life, please consider calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, beyondblue on 1300 22 4636, or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.