A new study in the Archives of General Psychiatry led by a psychologist from Northwestern University shows, for the first time, that an antidepressant can change your personality. According to their data, it is suggested that today’s antidepressants partially work by correcting key personality risk factors for depression. The effects of Paxil and Seroxat (both SSRIs) were studied in a placebo-controlled trial that involved 240 adults diagnosed with major depressive disorder. As expected from other trials, those taking Paxil experience moderately greater improvement in their depression symptoms than those receiving the placebo. What was surprising? Those participants that were taking Paxil also had a far greater reduction in neuroticism (a tendency to experience negative emotions and emotional instability) and an increase in extroversion (socially outgoing; dominance and a tendency to experience positive emotions) than those receiving placebo.
Research has show that the importance of personality features such as neuroticism is a definite risk factor for depression. Additionally, studies have also found an overlap in the genes associated with a high level of neuroticism and genes associated with depression. Finally, both neuroticism and extroversion have a link to the brain’s serotonin system, largely targeted by SSRI antidepressants.
In the study, 120 participants were randomly assigned to receive Paxil and 60 were randomly assigned to undergo cognitive therapy. Personalities and depressive symptoms were assessed previous to the study and after the treatment. After treatment, those that responded to Paxil (69) were followed for a year to analyze depression relapse. Those taking Paxil reported 6.8 times as much change in neuroticism and 3.5 times as much change in extroversion and those placebo participants.
These results provide proof that may dispel the common assumption that personality changes during SSRI treatment occur only because of the alleviation of depressive symptoms. In fact, perhaps an alternative explanation is that it’s the biochemical properties of SSRIs directly produce real personality change. The personality changes that occur as a result of taking the anti-depressant medications may play a crucial role in decreasing depression symptoms.