Mental Health Monday–Anti-depressants: Are They Dull?

Lydia posed this week’s question for Mental Health Monday:

Can anti-depressants/SSRI’s stunt creativity?

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (in other words, medications like Prozac, Zoloft, etc) block the reuptake of a chemical called serotonin from the synaptic cleft (the space between nerve cells where chemicals are “sent” from one cell to the next–it’s kind of like passing notes in class). What this does is keep serotonin in that space longer so it has more time to get from one cell to another. (Translation: the message gets received–bonus!)

So what does that mean? Well, a lack of adequate serotonin is thought to be one of the causes of depression and anxiety. Therefore, taking the medication alleviates the symptoms by increasing the amount of available serotonin. Cool, huh?

Well, that’s the neurology lesson. Now on to how this translates to real life…

People with depression often feel sad, tearful, down in the dumps. They have little motivation and energy to keep up with every day tasks. It’s hard to find interest in things. Concentrating becomes too effortful. Appetite can increase or decrease. Sleep either becomes too sparse or too excessive. Thoughts and intent of suicide may arise. Symptoms of psychosis (delusional thinking or hallucinations) can develop.

Add the anti-depressant and all of these things can be ameliorated. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for everyone, but anti-depressants have helped millions of people get better.

Regarding creativity, there really isn’t much in the research literature regarding this, so I’m going to go on anecdotal information.

Some people experience a relative blunting of their emotional response to things. This has been expressed as feeling “blah,” not upset over what would ordinarily upset them, and feeling calm.

Others may feel differently, but in my opinion, emotional moderation is not the same as creativity. In fact, a depressed person adequately treated with an anti-depressant will likely regain interest in things like hobbies, engaging with friends and family, and investing in arts and leisure. They will regain the energy they’d lost and actually pursue their interests.

You know, I’ve had many many many people describe depression as a dark cloud, a black shroud, a dulling of life. After treatment, the veil lifts, the vitality of life returns, colors appear brighter, and interest in life returns.

Since each individual’s experience is soooooo unique, I am curious to hear what y’all have to say on the subject! Feel free to chime in, folks. 😉

AND, be sure to check out Lydia’s post on Medical Mondays.

As always, this is intended for writing purposes only, and is NOT to be construed as medical or psychiatric treatment or advice.

15 comments on “Mental Health Monday–Anti-depressants: Are They Dull?

  1. Pete says:

    My son (Aspergers) is 18 and has been on zoloft regularly years. His special gift is comic book story writing, and he has been rather prolific over the past three years. I suspect that there are times when he feels less creative than others, but the stories he writes are pretty unique. E.g., “Shattered Kin,” the story of a family of super-heroes who are all schizophrenic – they don’t know if the villains they’re fighting are real or imagined.

  2. Lydia Kang says:

    That’s what I suspected. Not much literature on it, but it would be hard to study as it’s all just perspective.
    Thanks for tackling this!

  3. Arlee Bird says:

    I’m not a big fan of drugs. I feel like so much more could be done with personal contact, certain therapies, and getting depressed people to be more outwardly directed and less focused on self and one’s own problems. But I don’t know enough about the physical effect on depression so I could certainly be wrong about this.

    Tossing It Out

    • lbdiamond says:

      For sure, talk therapy plus medications often gives people the best outcomes–that being said, it is largely individually dependent, meaning what works for one won’t work for another and vice versa. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Cynthia says:

    Hi Laura!

    Your post made dig into old writings. My experience went like this:

    “After a week of taking Zoloft, I didn’t feel upset anymore. My life hadn’t changed at all, but I wasn’t bothered by it. It was as though I’d simply disconnected from everything.

    For a moment it felt like I’d hit the jackpot. I was now immune to the pain of life. Then it dawned on me that if I could accept my life as it was, I would never seek to improve it.

    I thought of my children stagnating in the sadness and discomfort of living with an unpredictable, brain damaged father. Would they need an anti-depressant too?

    A larger thought settled into the forefront of my mind. Why was I taking medication to stop a reaction that was entirely appropriate based on the circumstances? Could that be remotely healthy? Wasn’t I supposed to be devastated? Was using medicine to circumvent the normal and natural progression of my grief and upset ultimately good?

    I don’t claim to know that my opinions are right for others who endure the unimaginable, but I knew what was right for me. If I were ever going to recover and find the way to a better life, I needed to feel the truth. I threw the pills out.”

    Ultimately, I did work through the bleakness and cut a path to a life filled with good again. For me, just me, I couldn’t have done so without feeling the feelings, processing the loss and desiring better. On SSRI’s I didn’t feel anything anymore.

    Good post, Laura.


    Blog: LIFE

    • lbdiamond says:

      I agree, Cynthia. I by no means advocate for people to take medications for the sole purpose of numbing feelings. As human beings, we’re meant to experience emotions, both good and bad. When the emotions are so strong and the person has lost their sense of control, their coping skills, and when they are unable to function in their roles as family member, significant other, co-worker, friend, that medications become an option, and, at times, a necessity. The medication can bring someone back from the brink of death. It isn’t the only thing, but it is important.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your story! I always appreciate your input, Cynthia! 😀

  5. Jamie Grey says:

    Wow – what a great, informative post. I’ve actually been wondering about this myself, so it’s interesting to know no real reasearch has been done on the creativity link. Thanks for posting!

  6. kat says:

    Thanks for posting this, Laura.

    I absolutely believe antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can inhibit creativity. But I would never recommend someone quit or reduce their medication simply because they miss the flow of their creative juices. If someone has been prescribed this type of medication, then there’s most likely a really good reason.

    I think there is a misconception about depression and anxiety disorder, in general. I think a lot of people think depression and related illnesses can simply be dealt with by taking a “mind over matter attitude.”

    It’s cuts me very deeply when I hear people make comments like, “If that person would just get off the couch and move, he’d feel better.” Or “I wish he/she would just quit throwing a pity party for him/herself.”

    Talk therapy can help sufferers process emotions and learn to cope with distorted thought processes in a proper manner, but many don’t seem to realize that there is an actual chemical imbalance in the brain that — for some — no amount of talk therapy can balance.

    For people who truly suffer from anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, mania or depression, the ramifications of stopping medication against or without professional advice can have devasting effects on both the patient and the family who has to live with the patient. (And I’m not just talking about suicide.)

    I’ll get off of my soapbox now. Thanks for opening this dialogue.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kat! Much appreciated!

      As you say, I also believe there is a biological and psychosocial component to depression, anxiety, etc. That’s why a combination of both meds and talk therapy give ya the most bang for your buck.

  7. Lindsay says:

    Great post Laura.

    I don’t think that anti-depressants numb the creative juices totally but I think each person will have a different experience. A few of my family members have had bouts of depression and very, very different experiences.

    For one, medications just don’t work anymore. Somedays the dark cloud triumphs.
    For another, talking and medication helped and the dark cloud has lifted.

    I agree with what you said. A lot of the time the person taking the drugs will regain a love of hobbies and creative activities they enjoyed before once the emotions are balanced.

    And, like Kat said, a lot of people don’t understand depression or think ‘mind over matter’ or ‘pulling yourself together’ will snap someone out of it. As we understand now, a lot of the great writers/artist suffered ‘dark moods’ and depression, as well as drug addictions, alcoholism and other issues.
    You are right. There isn’t enough research done into this issue yet.

  8. Teresa says:

    I looked up this site trying to find out if antidepressants stunted emotions. It was initeresting reading what each of you have written. As was said, depression is different for everyone. I was 50 years old when I had my first “majoy depressive episode.” I took some antidepressants, got a counselor and in a few months was myself again. With doctor’s help I weanted off medication and was fine a about a year and a half. Then I crased (that is what I call what I feel) again. This is what I have learned over the past eight years. Sometimes depression is situational, loss of someone close to you, loss of a job, a difficult teenager, marriage problems, etc. Quite oftne those can be dealt with with counseling and time and being taught how to face and eal with those emotions. Mine is totally different. Mine crashes overnight. I just wake up one morning and I am gone. The first one, I was driving home one night and just started crying. I am not a crier and had no reason to cry. My husband was out of town so I went home and went to bed to sleep it off. I got up the next morning, opened my eyes and said to myself what a weird experience I had had last night. I stepped out of bed and walked to my recliner and sat there ALL day until my husband came home. I did not eat, talk to anyone, turn of tv…just sat. Basically not even any thoughts. That is what happens to me. After this first I thought it was a freak thing and was over. At the time of the second I was told by my psychiatrist that mine was a chronic chemical imbalance. It was the first time I had ever heard that term mentioned to describe me. I was floored. It was not the first time I had ever heard the term. My brother developed scysphenia (sp) in his early 20’s, became suicidal, then developed bi-polar disorder and was in and out of hospitals all his life. I watched him struggle. I knew it was real…but real for him, not me. I was 50 years old. Then with research, I found there can definitely be a genetic component. It was at that time that my uncle and cousin confessed to me the struggle they had had for years. I have tried to get off medication many times unsuccessfully. I have accepted this as part of my life. but I have only had 4 episodes in 8 years, recovered and gone on with my life. Mine the summer of 2010 had physical components such as inability to speech, so much weakness in my legs, I often fell, I did not know how to anser a phone. I would put foods on the bar to cook and not know what to do with them. It took about 8 months to recover and I never totally recoverd. I still have a lot of trouble with my thinking process, etc. A long story to get to my point. I just met with my loctor a couple of days ago. I told him I felt my episodes were coming more often, more intensely, lasting longer and I never came out of it totally. I am checking into an intense out-patient program Monday for group and individual counseling. One thing I told him was that I had NO emotions. Now to my point. Is the severity of my depression causing the numbness of emotions or is the medication I am taking causing it? From your responses, I see there is a variety of answers but as I understand, no research driven proof. What do you think? D antidepressants blunt emotions?

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