How do antidepressants make you feel? On the one hand, this medication can help diminish the constant feeling of dread, despair, hopelessness and sadness that often comes with depression. But many people are unaware that antidepressants can also lead to something known as emotional blunting. One of the most commonly reported side effects of using antianxiety antidepressant drugs (typically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) is feeling “flat” and being unmotivated.
In this article, we’ll describe what that flat sensation is, what causes it, and how likely it is to happen to you if you take antidepressants. Understandably, this side effect is a significant concern for people starting this type of medication, a deterrent to people trying these life-changing drugs, and an obstacle to continuing a prescription.
Depression: An Overview
Depression is the leading cause of disability for Americans ages 15 to 44. Major depressive disorder (MDD) impacts approximately 6.7% of all American adults. Persistent depressive disorder (PDD) — a period of depression that lasts more than two years — affects an estimated 1.5% of American adults.
Unfortunately, depression can be quite debilitating and can often take over a person’s life. It can lead to a person feeling sad, empty, and hopeless or experiencing a loss of interest in activities, a decrease in self-esteem, a lack of motivation, and more. Treatment is essential for depression as it’s not a condition that just goes away. The two main types of treatment are medication and therapy, with people often requiring a combination of both.
How Do Antidepressants Make You Feel?
Most people have a friend or acquaintance who’s shared that “antidepressants make me feel numb.” As a result, there’s a common belief that antidepressants are just a trade-off: You trade feelings of depression for a constant numbness.
Studies have shown that as many as 40%-60% of people taking antidepressants will experience emotional blunting. This can result in:
- Finding it hard to laugh or cry when it’s appropriate
- Struggling to empathize with others
- A loss of drive and motivation
- Decreased enjoyment
Why Do SSRIs Make You Feel Flat?
The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain — a messenger chemical that transfers signals from nerve cells to the brain (also known as neurotransmitters). This valuable chemical positively impacts a person’s emotions, mood and sleep.
After relaying a message, the body typically reabsorbs serotonin into the nerve cells in a process known as reuptake. SSRIs inhibit, or block, this reabsorption. This means more serotonin is able to continue to pass messages to nearby cells, which keeps serotonin levels high.
Unfortunately, SSRIs can sometimes be too effective. The level of serotonin can become unbalanced and leave the individual unable to process and feel their “high highs” or “low lows.” So, while it helps people not feel depressed, it can also stop people from feeling their highs (laughing, enjoyment, motivation, etc.). This leaves the person feeling a type of level-headed “flat” at all times.
Feeling Flat vs the Alternative (Which Is Worse?)
Of course, many would argue that feeling flat is better than feeling depressed. Emotional blunting is a steady-state that isn’t likely to get worse. In comparison, depression can get more severe for some people and even lead to the development of other mental health conditions (like anxiety) or suicidal tendencies, which can be life-threatening. One study found that antidepressants help an extra 20 out of 100 people treat condition-related symptoms. As a result, for many, that flat feeling is an improvement compared to depressive symptoms.
However, it’s also important to understand that while emotional blunting from antidepressants can happen, it’s not the intended result. You don’t have to accept it as a side effect you must live with. There are remedies available, and individuals who feel flat due to their antidepressants are encouraged to speak to their doctor about this side effect.
Potential Remedies for Emotional Bluntness
First, note that this flat feeling may be temporary. Many patients report having emotional blunting as an initial side effect that doesn’t last. In this case, your body just needs to rebalance as it’s getting help from the SSRIs.
If you just started your medication, your doctor may ask you to continue and come back for a checkup in a few weeks. On average, it takes between two and four weeks for an individual to feel the full impact of the SSRIs. If the flat feeling doesn’t pass within four to six weeks of taking the medication, it may be time to explore other potential remedies.
As is the case with treating most conditions, there are variations in the brands and types of medication that can be prescribed to you. Your doctor may want to try another SSRI brand and see how you respond to the change. Alternatively, emotional blunting is one of the primary signs your antidepressants are too strong. In this situation, a decrease in your medication dosage can often be the straightforward answer to eliminating the flat feeling side effect.
Lastly, SSRIs are not the only type of antidepressant available, although they’re the most popular because they’re thought to come with the fewest potential side effects. You may be one of the outlier patients who respond better to a non-SSRI antidepressant.
There’s no guilt or shame in modifying your medication until you find the right fit. Medication isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution; it needs to be prescribed at an individual level. But the goal is always the same: The medication should be an improvement compared to the situation you were in before taking it. Your doctor is used to working with patients to find the right antidepressant solution. Just be honest with them about what side effects you’re feeling so they can make adjustments as needed.
Depression Treatment at Sunlight Recovery
You don’t have to live with your depression any longer. Sunlight Recovery is an expert in mental health care, and our residential program allows us to dial in on the right solution for you, medication-based or not. We know what it takes to help you feel better, and we’ll work with you to get there. Contact us today to find out how we can help by calling today.