Millions of Americans suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can improve a wide variety of these conditions and, as a result, are commonly prescribed. SSRIs work by blocking a receptor in the brain that absorbs the chemical serotonin. Serotonin is known to influence mood, but the exact way SSRIs improve depression isn't clear.
Commonly prescribed SSRIs include:
Alternative Therapies for Depression
There is no evidence that any alternative treatment is effective for treating moderate to severe depression. For some people, however, they may be used as an addition to other treatments -- providing relaxation, relief from depressive symptoms, and helping you cope with some of the causes of depression such as grief, anxiety, changing roles, and even physical pain. If you have depression and are considering using an alternative form of therapy, it is important to seek the advice of your healthcare provider.
What is Alternative Therapy?
A health treatment that is not classified as standard western medical practice is referred to as "alternative" or "complementary." Alternative therapy encompasses a variety of disciplines that include everything from diet and exercise to mental conditioning and lifestyle changes. Examples of alternative therapies include acupuncture, guided imagery, chiropractic treatments, yoga, hypnosis, biofeedback, aromatherapy, relaxation, herbal remedies, massage, and many others.
SSRIs have the power to markedly improve mood, outlook, and behavior in people with depression. Although often positive, these same benefits can also be a cause of concern to many people.
Will taking an SSRI change you into someone else? Most depression experts would say that when antidepressants are effective, they take away the negative effects of depression that mask your real self; antidepressants can reveal someone's true personality (rather than change it) by lifting the veil of depression.
All medicines can have side effects, and depression treatments are no exception. Although generally well-tolerated, antidepressant drugs affect each person differently. Understanding the reality behind SSRI myths can help you know what to expect, if you're prescribed these medicines.
SSRI Myth or Fact: SSRIs Are Dangerous to Combine With Other Medicines.
Although no drug is 100% safe for everyone, SSRIs are among the safest. Rarely do SSRIs interact or cause problems with other medicines. However, SSRIs should not be used with the following medications due to the risk of developing dangerously high blood pressure:
• Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors -- these medicines can be extremely effective treatments for depression, but should not be combined with other antidepressants. They include Parnate, Marplan, Nardil and Selegiline.
• Zyvox -- an antibiotic that acts similarly to an MAO inhibitor
Bottom Line: SSRIs are safe to take with almost all medicines. But before taking an SSRI, ask your doctor or pharmacist about any possible complications associated with taking the medicine with other treatments.
SSRI Myth or Fact: Taking an SSRI Will Change My Personality.
It's true that taking an SSRI changes the chemistry inside your brain. This causes subtle changes in the way you feel, act, and behave.
But you just might like the new you. In one of the few studies measuring personality changes in response to antidepressants, those taking SSRIs felt more emotionally stable, outgoing, trusting, and assertive, and less hostile.
Bottom Line: Treating depression with SSRIs may improve your mood, outlook and behavior so that you no longer feel depressed or anxious. This may reveal your true self and not your depressed or anxious self.
SSRI Myth or Fact: SSRIs Are Addictive.
SSRIs do not cause addiction in the way cocaine, tobacco, or heroin do. After a period of exposure to SSRIs, however, the brain does adapt and get "used to" the medicine. For this reason, you shouldn't stop taking an SSRI suddenly without talking to your doctor. After completing treatment, most SSRIs are tapered before stopping, and the brain readjusts.
Bottom Line: SSRIs aren't addictive, but they shouldn't be stopped abruptly either
SSRI Myth or Fact: If I Start an SSRI, I'll Have to Take It Forever.
Most people with a first lifetime episode of depression take an SSRI for a limited period of time. General treatment guidelines for depression suggest continuing treatment for at least several months after symptoms have improved.
Depression, however, returns periodically in many people. The same is true for many other conditions that SSRIs treat. For this reason, a doctor may recommend long-term treatment as prevention against future episodes or exacerbations of symptoms.
Bottom Line: Most people take SSRIs for a limited period of time. People with relapsing depression might benefit from long-term SSRI use.
SSRI Myth or Fact: Taking an SSRI Will Make Me Fat.
People react to SSRIs in different ways. Some people taking SSRIs gain weight while others lose weight. And some SSRIs may make you more likely to gain or lose weight than others.
Bottom Line: SSRIs may cause you to gain or lose weight. It is important to discuss concerns about weight and other side effects with your doctor when considering the available medication treatments for depression.
SSRI Myth or Fact: An SSRI Will Stop Me From Feeling Anything.
Some people report a general dulling of emotion while taking SSRIs. On the other hand, people whose emotions are shut down by depression describe finally being able to feel again.
These are difficult effects to study and are not followed by the FDA or reported by drug manufacturers. Again, different SSRIs may create different effects in different people.
Bottom Line: Taking an SSRI can change how you experience emotions. If an antidepressant creates unpleasant feelings, you should discuss it with your health care provider.
SSRI Myth or Fact: Taking an SSRI Will Ruin My Sex Life.
SSRIs do affect libido and sexual experience in many people. Men often experience delayed ejaculation. Men and women may have a decreased intensity or ability to orgasm. Estimates vary, but research shows between 20% and 45% of people will experience some decline in sexual function.
Wellbutrin is a non-SSRI depression medicine that does not diminish sex drive or intensity. It can be taken with an SSRI as an add-on therapy that may provide more potent antidepressant effects, and sometimes may help to reduce sexual side effects of an SSRI. This often helps people experience more normal sex lives.
Depression and anxiety themselves put the brakes on many people's sex lives. Some people report that lifting of depression brings back their desire for sex.
Bottom Line: SSRIs commonly cause a decline in sexual function. Talk to your health care provider to learn what you can do to overcome this frustrating side effect.