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Why I Say Antidepressants Can Never ‘Make’ Me Happy

The number of misconceptions about taking antidepressants seems almost limitless, but one of the most striking is the idea that antidepressants are somehow a “happy pill.” The idea that antidepressants somehow make you happy seems to persist despite valiant efforts by so many people to dispel mental health misconceptions.

To clarify, antidepressants do not possess mythical powers to simply “make” a person happy — they can, however, allow people to feel happiness again. The distinction makes a world of difference when it comes to mental health.

Antidepressants are not for everyone. Some people benefit more from various forms of therapy and lifestyle changes. However, those who do need antidepressant medication often find it doesn’t do what they thought it was going to do. For better or worse, antidepressants often react with different people’s bodies in different ways. While one person may experience tremendous relief from their depression with minimal or no side effects, another person may experience unbearable side effects and even a worsening of their depression. Yes, antidepressants can make depression worse. That’s because no two people are exactly the same in their condition, and will respond differently to different classes of medication. Different neurotransmitters cause very different changes in the body, and we have yet to find a way to accurately determine which neurotransmitters are the problem without medication trial and error. So, far from being the happy pill sometimes portrayed by movies and media, antidepressants can, in fact, make things worse for some people. This fact led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue a “black-box warning” in 2004, stating that antidepressants can increase suicidal thinking in some patients.

Despite the initial frustrations of trying new medications and the potential for negative side effects, there are a number of people who are successfully treating their depression with medication. But are these medications “making” them happy?

No.

These medications are allowing them to feel positive emotions. Depression can effectively lock the door on happiness. These medications are opening the door to happiness, yes – but you still have to get up and walk through the door. Happiness is not delivered on a silver platter, or in a pill bottle. You don’t take antidepressants and suddenly feel like nothing is ever wrong. The same life issues still exist. You still have to follow a budget, eat well, work toward your goals and take your medication. Those pills become part of the bigger picture of positive emotions. They are a tool to help, not a panacea to cure. They allow those positive emotions that may have been locked away and inaccessible to be experienced. This is a far cry from simply “making” you happy.

Antidepressants are a weapon in the arsenal, but they alone cannot make anyone happy. They help us feel emotions which were previously impossible to feel. Positive emotions, not just negative ones. They can be a valuable step to happiness, but they can’t get us there alone.

Photo by Johen Redman on Unsplash