Can anti-depressants change more than your mood? Can they actually change who you are? A new study says yes.
Roughly 7 percent of American adults have depression severe enough to take anti-depressants. The hope, of course, is that the medicine will counteract the down effects of the depression, bringing the patient back “up” to his or her normal level. It is seen primarily as a chemical balancing, much like insulin balances a diabetic’s blood sugar.
But now comes a research study of 240 adults that finds that important personality changes also take place in many patients who take antidepressants, including an increase in extrovert behavior and a decrease in neurotic behaviors.
The patients became more confident, outgoing and optimistic even after they stop the anti-depressants.
Neuroticism and extroversion are two of the five traits thought to define personality and shape a person’s behavior and daily thoughts (the other three are conscientiousness, agreeability and openness to experience). Previously, it was thought to be very difficult to change any of these traits.
From the Los Angeles Times:
“The findings are striking, researchers said, because psychologists have long thought that such fundamental traits are moorings of an adult's personality that shift very little over a lifetime.
“The medications would seem to relieve depression by chemically altering brain processes that spawn negative thoughts rather than just alleviating symptoms associated with a depressed state, said Northwestern University psychologist Tony Z. Tang, the lead author of the study.
“The findings, published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry and funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, could have significant implications for depression treatment, researchers not connected with the study said.
“It is unclear how long-lasting the changes in personality are, the authors said. But the study found that patients whose personalities shifted the most were less likely to relapse. And they said that monitoring those altered traits could be a useful, early gauge of whether a medication is working and how probable a recurrence would be.”