Antidepressants May Have Society-Wide Side Effects

Nausea and vomiting are very unpleasant, as well as socially awkward: Wouldn’t it be nice if we could abolish them?

Maybe we could find a drug that would successfully eliminate nausea, or develop a surgical technique that would interrupt the part of the nervous system that causes it.

Well, maybe we could (naysays a naysayer) but we wouldn’t want to. Nausea and vomiting, as unpleasant as they are, are important tools in the arsenal of an animal that doesn’t want to be poisoned to death. If you were to get rid of them, you’d be much more likely to do yourself some even worse harm by digesting something you oughtn’t.

Some folks are beginning to wonder whether the same is true for depression. It’s unpleasant, socially awkward, certainly worth avoiding if possible, but maybe is also a valuable, evolutionary-honed response that should not be artificially repressed as a matter of course.

Depression seems to promote analytical, introspective thinking, and careful cost-benefit analysis, and to reduce sources of distraction. It may be a natural way for people in a sub-par place in life to “cocoon” and develop a new game plan.

Earlier this month the Archives of General Psychiatry released a much-publicized study that one in 10 Americans is now taking antidepressants within the course of a year, making antidepressants the most prescribed kind of medication in the country. The number of Americans on antidepressants doubled , and the number of prescriptions written for these drugs has increased each year .

I was on antidepressants for a while, and they seemed to help give me a boost out of problems with periodic depression that I’d had at least since adolescence and that seemed to be getting worse. I haven’t had any trouble with depression for years now, and though I might have just grown out of it, I’m inclined to give the antidepressants some credit for introducing me to a new headspace and allowing me to develop some skills in living a non-depressed life.

On the other hand, I remember the time when I was on antidepressants also as being a time when I was uncharacteristically callous towards other people. Superficially, my social behavior had improved — I was more outgoing, less withdrawn, more conversational — but on a deeper level, it had become more pathological — I was more likely to disregard my friends’ inconvenient needs, and more willing to participate in back-biting and other malicious intrigue. I was also more reckless — less cognizant or less concerned about the possible negative consequences (to myself or others) of my actions.

Again, maybe some of this was just a phase I was going through anyway. But, again, I’m inclined to give antidepressants a lot of the credit. I’m not certain these things are common side effects of antidepressants, but I have my suspicions. They aren’t the sort of things that would show up as side effects during drug testing protocols, I don’t think, so even if these sorts of side effects were near-universal, it might go without much notice.

I can’t help but think that giving 10% of Americans drugs that suppress their ability to boost their analytical, introspective problem-solving in times of distress, and that promote callous, uncaring, anti-social behavior, has been a dangerous experiment.