You ask, “Will antidepressants make me happy?” Well, it depends. For one thing, if a person who is mentally normal and not depressed takes antidepressants, they do not improve his mood or daily functioning. Remember, an antidepressant is not a “happiness pill”. You may ask, “What is the harm in giving it a try?” You see, antidepressants are not benign pills. They have side effects, just like most medications. So, you would not want to risk suffering from the side effects in your vain bid to become happier, which anyway has very little chance of succeeding if you are normal, to begin with.
Antidepressants can make a Depressed Person Feel Happy Again
What about those who are having depression? Will they benefit from taking an antidepressant by becoming as happy as they felt before the onset of the depression? One of the symptoms of depression is that you will feel sad and lose interest in things that once were pleasurable to you, such as say watching TV, having sex, etc. An antidepressant can certainly lift your depression and make you feel happy and chirpy again. Antidepressants can help reduce insomnia, loss of appetite, and fatigue associated with depression, which can make you feel happy again. At the same time, remember that more often the antidepressants bring you to a neutral base, and so you can aim towards happiness. They take the sting out of depression. They do not necessarily provide happiness, contentment, or joy, but they might pull you out of despair enough that you can start thinking about and working towards what would make you happy.
There are four classes of antidepressants: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine (Prozac); serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta); tricyclic and tetracyclic antidepressants, such as nortriptyline (Pamelor) and imipramine (Tofranil); and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), such as isocarboxazid (Marplan) and phenelzine (Nardil). There are also “atypical” antidepressants, such as bupropion (Wellbutrin) and mirtazapine (Remeron). The antidepressant prescribed for you will depend on a careful assessment of your overall health and an audit of all the medications you are currently taking. It’s not a case of one-size-fits-all.
But, remember these things before you give the antidepressants a try so that you do not get your hopes too high only to see them dashed:
- Only 40% of people improve with the first antidepressant they try. The rest 60% need to try a second or third antidepressant to get the benefit. Eventually, most people find an antidepressant that works for them through trial and error.
- Note that antidepressants are not some magic pills that will change your personality overnight and start making you feel happier than you were before your depression came on. At best, the antidepressants can get you back to your previous normal baseline of happiness.
- Antidepressants take time to work. It may take 4-6 weeks before you start seeing the full benefits of taking an antidepressant.
- You will need to take the antidepressant that is having beneficial effects, for at least 6-9 months so that there is no relapse of the depression symptoms once you stop the antidepressant. The antidepressant should not be stopped abruptly but stopped gradually by tapering the dose.
- Some people may have relapses of depression symptoms even after they have taken an adequate course of antidepressant therapy. In such cases, they may need to be on antidepressant therapy life-long.
Watch Out for These Side Effects of Antidepressants
- Antidepressants can make you gain weight. Paradoxically, some may make you lose weight.
- Rarely, people might become apathetic or unemotional when they take certain antidepressants. Some studies show that between 45 percent and 70 percent of antidepressant users have experienced emotional blunting during treatment. People who experience emotional blunting will often (1) Be less able to laugh or cry even when appropriate, (2) Feel less empathy, (3) Not be able to respond with the same level of enjoyment that you normally would, and (4) Experience loss of motivation and drive. In that case, try a lower dose or switch to another antidepressant.
- Some antidepressants can interfere with your sex life by making orgasm more difficult. This can reduce your happiness level.
- Some antidepressants can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts, especially in children and young adults below 25.
- Stopping taking an antidepressant abruptly can cause withdrawal symptoms such as depression, digestion problems, and sleep disturbances. So, even if you are feeling better after being on antidepressant therapy for some time, stop it only upon your doctor’s recommendation, and that, too, taper it gradually.
Alternatives to Antidepressants to Feel Happy Again
Since antidepressants do not work in all cases of depression, some may need to undergo psychotherapy, in the form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy or interpersonal psychotherapy. These psychotherapies have been shown to be as effective as antidepressants in relieving the symptoms of depression. Sometimes, your doctor might combine antidepressants with psychotherapy.
If despite the above treatments, your symptoms of depression are not relieved, which happens in a small percentage of cases, and you do not feel any happier than before you started the treatment, then you may need to undergo brain stimulation therapy, in the form of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), reverse transcranial magnetic stimulation or deep brain stimulation. These work quite well in such cases of treatment-resistant depression.