Five Myths About Antidepressants

Patient Expert

We have an uncomfortable relationship with any medication that alters our brain chemistry. Not only are we wary of anything that alters this chemistry (even if it's out of whack) because we see our brain as the center of our personhood, but we also seem to think that we should be able to somehow fix these imbalances ourselves, either with sheer force or will or alternative methods.

Think about it - is there another group of medications that has so much misinformation or scorn swirling around it? I take medication for hypertension and Multiple Sclerosis as well as antidepressants, and I have never heard anyone say, "You know, just popping a pill for your high blood pressure and Multiple Sclerosis won't solve all of your problems."

Below I've addressed five of the most prevalent myths, ones that are the most likely to keep people from trying antidepressant treatment.

1. Antidepressants are addictive.
Antidepressants are not addictive in the way that most people would use the word. It's not wise to stop antidepressants suddenly. While your mind and body won't crave the medication per se, in the same way you would crave nicotine or a street drug, you might suffer withdrawal symptoms, especially if you were taking a high dose. The best argument to be made against antidepressants being addictive is that there is no street market for them.

2. Antidepressants are happy pills.
Antidepressants are not "uppers." Unlike drugs like speed or ecstasy which improve the mood of anyone who takes them, antidepressants only improve the mood of people with a mood disorder, since they are correcting an imbalance in brain chemistry. If someone who isn't depressed takes antidepressants, the only change they'll notice is the possible side effects.

3. Antidepressants are a "quick fix" or "crutch," and don't really solve the problem.
One thing that antidepressants are not is quick. Most take a minimum of a week to work. And they are not meant to "fix" your depression, per se. Most people with depression need to address environmental issues to let to or contributed to their depression. Antidepressants lift their mood enough that they are then capable of making healthier lifestyle choices that could improve their mood and of participating fully in therapy.

4. Antidepressants will change your personality and keep you from having normal moods.
Antidepressants normalize the mood of people with mood disorders (hence the word "disorder"). They fix brain chemistry that's out of whack, not change someone's underlying personality. If the antidepressant is effective, it will return the person to a normal state.

5. Once you start taking antidepressants, you're on them for the rest of your life.
Not true. Most people are able to cease antidepressant treatment after six months. For a small percentage of people, those who have had one or two major depressive episodes, longterm use may be recommended.

If you or someone you know has been scared off of taking antidepressants for clinical depression after hearing any of these myths, do some research and talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns you might have.