Is this real?
April 15, 2007 8:56 PM   Subscribe

I need help people. I'm very interested in some research about antidepressants and about how they inhibit love and feelings. There are many articles about this online but I'm having trouble finding any corroborating evidence from other researchers (everything that I've found lists Dr. Helen Fisher of Rutgers as the source). I'm also interested in any research that disputes this, other than that from the drug companies themselves, obviously.

Is there anyone out there that understands these brain science things that can explain this?
I'm also interested in any experiences with this sort of thing that some of you may have had. If so, how did you get through it?
This is one of the many articles that mentions it. A google search will bring up a lot more if you are interested.
posted by Brachiosaurus to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
While IANAD (or a psychologist), there seems to be a huge literature on sexual dysfunction as a side effect of SSRIs. Google Scholar search returns, among many others:

Montejo-Gonzalez et al., 1997. SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction : Fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline, and fluvoxamine in a prospective, multicenter, and descriptive clinical study of 344 patients

Keltner et al., 2002. Mechanisms and treatments of SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction.

Piazza et al., 1997. Sexual Functioning in Chronically Depressed Patients Treated With SSRI Antidepressants: A Pilot Study

A brief survey of papers suggests that while physiologically, SSRIs do have a high rate of sexual side effects, clinical depression itself can often disrupt relationships and sexual intimacy, too. This is reflected by a high rate of reported sexual dysfunction among patients taking SSRIs, even if patients' sexual health can show a measured improvement after treatment.

If you're more interested in the personality effects of SSRIs, you might want to try the work of Peter Kramer, specifically Listening to Prozac and perhaps also Against Depression.

Hope this helps.
posted by goingonit at 9:31 PM on April 15, 2007

Helen Fisher did a talk at Ted which you may find interesting. She mentions antidepressents towards the end. I don't have another source that specifically addresses what you're asking about.

Somewhat related, you may want to read some stuff by William Glasser, particularly his explanation of Choice Theory. Glasser does not "believe" in antidepressents (well, he admits they can work but, like Fisher, thinks that they should only be temporary solutions). He believes all depression and happiness stems from ones relationships with others. I haven't read him in quite some time but I don't think he specifically mentions love, but is talking about healthy relations with spouses, bosses, employees, whatever. If the relationships in your life aren't healthy, says Glasser, "you will depress".

Glasser believes that people can only have good relationships when they accept (which is different from understanding) that they cannot control anyone but themself and that everything we do, whether it be something that is beneficial to us or harmful, is the result of a choice we make. Accepting this is very difficult even though most people understand it.

Anyway, I feel like I'm way off topic though in my head, Fisher and Glasser are saying similar things without seeming to be aware of each other's work.

In my own life, I've found both writers/theories to be sound. I'm someone who depresses or suffers from depression who refuses to medicate. Yes, I've tried it, but it simply doesn't work for me. It works in that it makes me not-depressed, but it makes me something else, too. And I prefer depressed to that something else. Actually, that's false. I don't prefer it--I just feel that I can get through the depression; in my heart, I know this, too, shall pass. When on meds, I don't have that clarity--I have a different clarity, yes, but not a hopeful clarity. I can only be not unhappy in the moment and I have no concept of a happiness (or unhappiness) in the future. (I'm sure some reading this will think that my depression is mild. I assure you, it's not. I've stood on bridges; I've contemplated subway tracks.)

In short: when I'm depressed, I'm self-focused but, depending on my company, I have the capacity to love, be awed, taken by, and fascinated by others. On meds, all I am is not interested in killing myself. But that's not interesting enough to me. I don't just need that awe and love, I require it. Without it, I'm someone else that, yes, others tolerate, but I'm someone I do not like or find interesting.

John Cassavetes once said, "I have a one track mind, that's all I'm interested in: love. And the lack of it." That pretty much sums me up, as well. Without love, I lack interest in everything, especially my own life. In love is in my element and the only place I feel home and myself. On meds, I'm home, but I'm someone else. Out of love and depressed (I'm never depressed in love), I'm home, I sometimes just don't answer the door.
posted by dobbs at 9:33 PM on April 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

There's a link discussing this topic over at MindHacks this week. You might try reading the paper and checking the bibliography. (I haven't read it)
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:56 PM on April 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, something else just occured to me to mention though it has nothing to do with antidepressents but does have something to do with a drug that affects relationships in an opposite way to which it was intended or believed. In this case, it's the Pill.

A study was done (which unfortunately I don't have a link for) where women were given men's unwashed t-shirts to smell. Based on the scents of the shirts (although technically it's based on the pheremones), women had to rate their attraction to the man that wore it (whom they never saw or met). Here's the thing: when women were on the Pill they had the opposite reaction to the shirts as when they were not on the Pill. That is, on the Pill they were keen on Joe and turned off by Harry. Off the Pill they were keen on Harry and turned off by Joe.

So what, right?

Well, it turns out that the man they found attractive when off the Pill was the one they'd be better of breeding with. Why? Because those men had immune systems that were more dissimmilar from the woman's, which would result in a stronger immune system in offspring.

But, you're saying, if they're on the pill, they're not breeding, right? Yes, and no. The scientists believe that this phenomena was the reason for so much divorce and so much single motherhood. They believe that the women, when in a non-"permanent" relationship (ie, dating), they would take the pill and be attracted to the man, but when the relationship became more commited (marriage) and the couple decided to go off the pill... all of a sudden the attraction wanes for reasons not obvious to the woman.

Anyway, I know this study is way way off what you're asking about but I still find it has interesting and relevant similarities to what you're interested in. Our bodies and minds are complex and, I think, there's no switch, no drug, that's going to do one thing without doing another and not all side effects are obvious or easily proved. And that statement makes me think of another book: In the Absence of the Sacred by Jerry Mander. It has nothing to do with drugs but is about technology. Again, you may find it an interesting read.
posted by dobbs at 10:12 PM on April 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

Thanks for everything so far. I just got done watching the video.
And to T.D. Strange: Is there a link on MindHacks to a discussion of some sort. All I see is the links to the article and some other stuff.
It gives me the option of posting a comment but I can't find a list of the other comments that came before.
posted by Brachiosaurus at 10:48 PM on April 15, 2007

Sorry, I have no links - most research doesn’t deal with what it feels like to be on or off medication, just what people’s scores are on various depression-screening checklists - but I do have personal experience.

On Paxil I had some sort of affective blunting. I could do all sorts of things I couldn’t without the meds, but that was largely because I couldn’t care about the consequences or larger implications. I hated it. I went off it.

On Zoloft, I have all the affective attachment I could want. I’m not exactly the person I am without meds, but that person isn’t very functional and the person I am on meds is. I like the person I am on meds, and I have a satisfying emotional life and ethical engagement with the world.

Both Paxil and Zoloft are SSRIs.

I’m not sure what you’re looking for exactly — proof that you’re feeling what you’re feeling? You don’t need proof. All you have to do is tell your prescriber that you hate your current meds and that you are going off them, but that you are keeping an open mind about trying something else. (If your prescriber gives up on you at this point I’m afraid you’re going to have to go through the danger and heartache of finding someone else to work with. This is an unlikely though possible outcome.)

Also, I don’t know how long you’ve been taking your meds. There’s a ramp-up period, and when I go on meds I go through a couple of weeks of no emotion except bitterness before breaking through the clouds. Your prescriber might ask you to take the meds for a full three months before deciding that you hate them.

SSRIs work best combined with cognitive-behavioural therapy. With the support of antidepressants you can actually do all the things you’re supposed to do, which are really helpful independently of medication. Off antidepressants you might just lie in bed feeling guilty for not doing them, which is counterproductive. If you can find a group that does CBT you will meet other people in a similar situation to yours and will be able to compare notes and discover that you aren’t bad or wrong or freakish or despicable or ungrateful. You’re just you, just like the other folks in your group are just them.

So yeah, you’re experiencing whatever you’re experiencing. It’s real.

Does this help?
posted by kika at 5:18 AM on April 16, 2007

Something that might help with your searching: Systems Theory psychology believes that most psychopathologies (like depression) are rooted in our relationships; if you have an unequal or dysfunctional relationship with someone important to you (parent, spouse, child), then it's likely to cause screwed-up behavior that can start leading to screwed-up brain chemistry.

That's obviously an oversimplification, but systems theory, since it specifically focuses on relationships between people rather than just an individual's brain chemistry, might be a starting point for looking into this further. (I haven't run across anything myself, so I can't point you to a specific person or resource.)
posted by occhiblu at 7:35 AM on April 16, 2007

I should say that it isn't me that on the antidepressants. I'm asking this question because it's my boyfriend and I that are having problems with our relationship. To make long story short, after being together for three years he told me recently that he loves me but something isn't right about our relationship and he can't put his finger on what it is. And while he loves me more like a "sister." I feel that among other things this could be because he's been on antidepressants the whole time. I should also say that going off the medication really isn't an option. And I really don't think that changing the prescription is either. It's not up to me anyway. In some of the articles that I've read they talk about some experiences that people have had like this. In one, a married woman starts taking an antipressant and then at some point she stops loving her husband and wants a divorce. Her doctor then changes her prescription/ dose and the relationship with her husband gets better. I'm looking for more stories that could be like this one, with similar or different results. I do hope that there are still enough people reading this post to answer this for me. I should have been more specific from the beginning.
posted by Brachiosaurus at 10:53 AM on April 16, 2007

I also didn't post this from the beginning because I didn't want a chatty conversation about my relationship, I want science.
posted by Brachiosaurus at 11:03 AM on April 16, 2007

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