Antidepressant May Change Personality While Relieving Depression Symptoms
People taking a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) to treat depression may experience beneficial changes in their personality that is distinct from relief of depression symptoms, concludes a new study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
According to emerging research, two personality traits—high neuroticism and possibly low extroversion—may reflect vulnerability to major depression. Neuroticism and extroversion are two of five primary personality dimensions in the Five-Factor Model of Personality. Neuroticism describes a tendency to experience negative emotions and emotional instability. Extroversion encompasses energy, positive emotions, and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others.
Both personality traits have been linked to the brain’s serotonin system—a target of SSRIs. That led scientists to wonder if SSRIs affect personality. To find out, researchers in the study randomized 240 adults with moderate-to-severe depression to receive one of three therapies: treatment with the SSRI paroxetine (Paxil), cognitive behavioral therapy, or a placebo (sham therapy).
The results: People in all three groups experienced depression improvement. But people taking the SSRI paroxetine reported 6.8 times more change in neuroticism and 3.5 times more change in extroversion as people taking a placebo when matched for depression improvement.
Researchers conclude that paroxetine (Paxil) appears to have a specific effect on personality that is distinct from its effect on depression. If future studies confirm these results, according to the researchers, it could indicate that “SSRIs’ effects on personality go beyond and perhaps contribute to their antidepressant effects.”