For the more than 121 million people worldwide suffering from depression, medicating their disease with prescription drugs has almost become commonplace. In fact, the American Journal of Health reports that there are more than 2.7 million prescriptions written for antidepressant drugs each year in the United States alone.
When depressed patient’s consult with a doctor or mental health professional, oftentimes the first treatment option they are presented with is an anti-depressant medication. This is an alarming trend; one that is especially scary as the side effects of these medications become more apparent and publicly documented.
The latest issue raised by the scientific community questions the effect anti-depressants have on our overall emotional state. These drugs may actually affect us in ways other than simply relieving feelings of depression.
In their new book, evolutionary anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University and psychiatrist J. Anderson Thomson of the University of Virginia propose that anti-depressants not only curb our depression, but they also blunt our other emotions, including feelings of passion and love.
Building on the established notion that anti-depressants can curb the sex drive, their studies have taken it much further.
They believe that anti-depressants work to blunt the natural human desire to seek a mate, and that they may even eliminate the mind’s capacity to “fall in love”, or experience feelings of love and passion.
To understand how this effect is possible, you must first understand how anti-depressants work. When the mind experiences depression, it is most commonly related to an imbalance in the brain’s serotonin levels.
Serotonin is a chemical that controls our moods. When Serotonin levels are low, or our brains lack the ability to stabilize our Serotonin supply, this can lead to drastic mood changes, as well as feelings of sadness, malaise, worthlessness, guilt and general emotional pain. Collectively, they make up the general condition we commonly know as depression.
Fisher and Thomson’s study focused on a specific type of anti-depressant called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs work by disabling the body from reabsorbing serotonin after it is released, thus flooding the brain with it in an attempt to elevate mood. However, they are careful to note that all anti-depressant drugs are designed in some way to manipulate the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals, like Dopamine and Serotonin.
Since these chemicals are also so involved in our feelings of sexuality, one of the biggest complaints from users of anti-depressants is a major loss of sex drive or libido. In 2001, an estimated 73% of users of anti-depressants experienced some sexual side effects. Fisher and Thomson are also careful to point out that these same chemicals are involved when we feel that first rush of excitement at romance.
Much of the study is based off of first person accounts—stories of people who have taken anti-depressants and lost all interest in dating or romance. Fisher and Thomson’s study spans across thousands of first person accounts, including the story of Jerry Frankel’s experience with anti-depressants.
Frankel said “My usual enthusiasm for life was replaced by blandness,” he wrote. “My romantic feelings for my wife declined dramatically.”
Above all, Fisher’s concern is that people taking anti-depressants are unwittingly sacrificing their natural ability to fully experience their other, more pleasant emotions. She says, “I’m concerned about well-adjusted men and women who go through a crisis and start taking antidepressants. They continue taking them, not realizing they may be suppressing these other systems.”
They also point out that a major goal of anti-depressants is to stop obsessive thinking and harping on negative issues or thoughts. Thomson notes that it is exactly this obsessive thinking that makes dating, relationships and love so exciting.
For those individuals who are taking an anti-depressant medication and displaying similar side effects, Fisher and Thomson encourage them to raise the issue with a doctor.
Although this study is intended to pave the way for further inquiry into the problems they identify, Fisher and Thomson believe that patients should be sure to stay on top of how anti-depressants affect all of their emotions, including their romantic feelings and sentiments towards love and attraction.
Patients should be sure to keep track of how the drugs affect their relationships, as this can speak volumes about whether or not the positive effects outweigh the negatives.
Thomson stresses the importance of evaluating these anti-depressants and reminds patients to regularly ask as their doctor, “Do I still need to take these?” Since many people are prescribed anti-depressants to deal with traumatic life events, it is important to keep track of how well they are working so they can learn to deal with their emotions without the use of drugs.
Natural alternatives to anti-depressants can be very effective at curbing sadness and guilt and promoting energy and well-being, without the high risk of side effects that accompany many prescription medications.
In fact, many herbs and homeopathic treatments have been successfully used for centuries, and can still be very effective at fighting the symptoms of depression.
Rather than work to inhibit the brain from the uptake of Serotonin or other neurotransmitters, natural remedies work to treat the body as a whole by encouraging not only the mind to heal itself, but also to promote overall balance and health. This can work to provide a more comprehensive approach to the treatment of depression rather than just treating the symptoms in isolation.