· By Caitlin Bray
Do Antidepressants Change Your Personality?
Before making the choice to start on an antidepressant, there are a lot of questions that go through people’s minds. How will it make me feel? Will there be side effects? Will it change my personality?
When we consider medication to help with anxiety and depression, we are ultimately doing it so that we feel better and can live more full, happy lives. The idea that it may interfere with our personality, something that is so essential to who we are, can be a terrifying concept. But is there any truth to that idea?
We dug deep to find honest, neutral information about if or how antidepressants affect personality, so that you can make the best decision about whether they are the right choice for you. Our hope is that, no matter what your decision is, you feel confident that it is the right one for you.
How the Research Is Done
With such a big, important question, it is important to do effective, unbiased research. Without quality research, you can’t get quality results.
One of the best research studies out there looking at antidepressants and personality change was published in 2012. The researchers took 237 people who had previously been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and interviewed them four different times over five years. While the study only looked at two aspects of personality - neuroticism and extraversion - it is one of the longest term studies out there.
Ultimately, though, one of the largest issues with the research is that there isn’t a real, quantifiable way to measure personality. It’s all self-reported, which means there will be flaws in any study that seeks to really measure and compare it.
What Exactly is Personality?
Another key point to define is what exactly counts as your “personality.” While this might seem like an obvious question at first, it may not be what you expect.
For an accurate definition, we turned to the folks at Psychology Today. Turns out, personality is much more complex than we think! While the baseline definition refers to the way that we think, feel, and behave, there are plenty of factors that can affect what that may mean.
Personality is often misinterpreted as being a static thing, something that we’re born with that doesn’t change over our lifetime. That’s actually not true! Personality is partly that, an innate quality that we come out of the womb with. But it’s also influenced by other factors, mostly the environment we grow up in and the experiences that we have.
Most psychologists define personality in reference to five basic personality traits - openness to experience, neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and extraversion. These traits are often referred to as the “Big Five.”
Many of those factors can be influenced by mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Each has an important part to play in how we perceive our own personalities, as well as the personalities of others.
Personality tests are fun but they don’t provide any objective evidence as to who we really are.
Does Anxiety Change Your Personality or Your Brain?
Before we even get to antidepressants and their effect on the brain and personality, it’s important to acknowledge that anxiety on its own can change things. Even if you’re using natural methods to support your mental health like taking PYM Mood Chews, anxiety can actually change your brain.
Stress and anxiety can stimulate certain parts of our brain, like the hypothalamus, adrenal cortex, and pituitary gland, to release stress hormones like cortisol. These hormones profoundly affect the body. Prolonged periods of stress can cause the body to break down, and can even literally kill brain cells.
Over time, increased cortisol levels can also increase the size of the amygdala, which is the main part of our brain that controls and processes emotions like fear. It also encourages the flight or flight response, which will be triggered much more easily in a larger amygdala.
Stress can also affect other parts of the brain, like memory. Without our memories, we can definitely notice personality changes. Memory and experience form an important part of who we are, so having cortisol wipe some of them out will deeply impact how we feel about the world.
How Do Antidepressants Work?
There are two different types of antidepressants commonly used - SSRIs and tricyclic antidepressants. Both were designed to block the transmission process of specific neurons that contain dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, allowing these to increase in the brain. This helps to stabilize the emotions and calm the mood.
Each type of antidepressant targets a specific neurotransmitter. SSRIs focus on serotonin, while tricyclic antidepressants focus specifically on norepinephrine. Each comes with their own specific side effects too. Mostly, these side effects are small and go away over time, like nausea, diarrhea, headaches, trouble sleeping, and agitation. The majority of side effects are caused by the way that antidepressants literally change the brain, forming new pathways for neurotransmitters and blocking the production of chemicals that negatively impact our mood.
Sometimes, in the process of changing the neurotransmitters and pathways, antidepressants can also change things that people consider parts of their personality, like sexual desire. They can also affect our ability to sleep, which may make us crabbier and less patient with others. But what is this personality change? What did the study show?
So, What Are The Results? Do Antidepressants Change Your Personality?
While the results of the study did show there was some personality change, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It really all depends on how you define your own personality. For some, who consider their anxiety an important element of who they are, reducing that anxiety and being more outgoing might be considered a bad thing. For those who are looking to change their lives by reducing their anxiety, a small personality change for the better is welcome.
According to the study, over time, people who took antidepressants long term were more outgoing and emotionally stable at the end of the process. To put it in terms of the study, they showed less neuroticism and more extroversion, which are both factors affected by the serotonin in the brain. Ultimately, neuroticism is one of the key factors that influences depression, so people felt more calm and described the shifts they felt in their personalities to be positive in nature.
So, to summarize, yes… antidepressants do technically “change” your personality. Whether that is a good thing for you or not is up to you to decide, but the simple fact is that they do influence personality in some way.
Are There Other Ways to Improve Mental Health?
Natural ingredients like rhodiola rosea, L-theanine, and GABA can help to support mental health and improve stress to make for overall wellness.* That’s partially why we designed PYM Mood Chews. In a world where we’re increasingly seeking natural, holistic approaches to improving our well-being, we can’t forget to leave out one of the most important parts of our well-being: our mental and emotional health.
Some people also choose to manage and improve their symptoms with diet and nutrition. Many of the natural ingredients that can help with anxiety can be found in food items like teas, bananas, salmon, and leafy green vegetables. If you monitor your diet closely and make an effort to incorporate healthy foods and nutrients, this along with other healthy lifestyle choices like exercise can be conducive to improved mental health.
Therapy can also work wonders. Simply being able to talk about your feelings, identify your triggers, and develop healthy coping mechanisms can really work to reduce anxiety and depression. Nothing is immediate, and dealing with these issues takes time. Understanding that will help with the process.
Ultimately, you have the power to decide how you want to manage your own health, and part of that decision is being informed.
When it comes to antidepressants, the types of “personality” changes are actually side effects of the medication - like agitation, irritability, an increase in anxiety, an increase in extroversion, and more. Those may be temporary as your body adjusts to the medication, but it’s important to monitor yourself and be aware of how you’re affected over time.
There are also other methods you can use along with medication to help improve and support your mental health. Natural mental wellness supplements are a readily available addition to your mental health regimen that can aid in helping you feel your best. Ultimately, you have to decide for yourself what is right for you.
It’s also important to remember that our personalities are not a static thing, they can and do change over time no matter how much our routines stay the same, and that change is not necessarily a bad thing!
*FDA Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.