The Psychological Side Effects of Antidepressants

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Depression medications may have psychological side effects more often than expected

February 28, 2014 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

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(dailyRx News) Antidepressant medications allow millions of people to live more fulfilling, happier lives. Still, these medications have their side effects, some of which may be more common than once thought.

In a recent study, most people reported that their antidepressant medication had helped alleviate their depression, yet many of these participants had experienced one or more side effects from their antidepressant.

These side effects included sexual difficulties, emotional numbness and feelings of aggression.

"Tell your doctor if you notice any side effects of your medication."

This study was led by Professor John Read, from the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society at the University of Liverpool.

The research team placed an anonymous survey online in New Zealand with questions related to how well people felt their antidepressant medications worked. These researchers ended up with 1,829 useable surveys.

The research team designed the study to explore the experience of the participant’s physical, emotional, and interpersonal effects.

The survey had 20 questions related to adverse effects of antidepressant medications. A total of eight side effects were reported by more than half of the participants.

The survey revealed that 62 percent of individuals claimed to experience sexual difficulties, 60 percent reported feeling emotionally numb, 52 percent said they did not feel like themselves, 42 percent claimed to care less about others and 59 percent failed to achieve orgasm.

The responses also showed that 39 percent of participants reported thoughts of suicide, while 29 percent reported feeling aggressive.

Despite all of these side effects, 82 percent of responders reported that their antidepressant medications had helped alleviate their depression.

The authors noted that 36 percent of participants claimed that the prescribing physician had not told them about potential adverse effects of their antidepressant medication.

The survey also showed that nearly 58 percent of participants reported drowsiness, 58 percent experienced dry mouth and 20 percent reported diarrhea associated with their antidepressant.

"While the biological side-effects of anti-depressants, such as weight gain and nausea, are well documented, psychological and interpersonal issues have been largely ignored or denied. They appear to be alarmingly common,” Professor Read said in a press statement.

"Effects such as feeling emotionally numb and caring less about other people are of major concern. Our study also found that people are not being told about this when prescribed the drugs,” he said.

The authors concluded that their findings suggest that prescribing physicians should educate patients about the "pervasive and potentially demoralizing effects on one's ability to feel positive emotions, or to feel anything at all, or about the potential effects on their relationships with other people."

Read concluded “Our finding that over a third of respondents reported suicidality ‘as a result of taking the antidepressants’ suggests that earlier studies may have underestimated the problem.”

The authors acknowledged that their study may have been limited by allowing participants to self-report and may not be representative of the general population.

This study was published February 26 in the journal Psychiatry Research.

This study was financed by the University of Auckland’s Faculty Research Development Fund.

The authors made no disclosures.

Review Date: 
February 27, 2014
Last Updated:
March 2, 2014