Antidepressants can reduce empathy, despite being used drugs, as the name suggests, to treat depression. In recent years its consumption has increased notably. In part, this is due to the incidence of the disease is becoming greater.
However, this increase is also because these drugs tend to be used without being indicated or prescribed. The problem is that they are substances that can cause numerous side effects.
One of them, discovered recently, is that antidepressants seem to reduce empathy. In this article, we explain everything you need to know about his relationship with this fact.
What are antidepressants?
As we just noted, these are medications used to treat the symptoms of major depression. Its mechanism of action consists of regulating the concentration of certain neurotransmitters in the brain associated with this pathology.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that allow proper communication between neurons. Those that are often implicated in depression are serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
Antidepressants can be of different types, depending on the mechanism by which they act or the neurotransmitter exerting their action. For example, first, we find selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). According to the “Report on the use of medicines in Spain,” SSRIs are the most widely used today. This is because they have fewer unwanted side effects.
In general, the other types are as follows:
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors.
- Tricyclic antidepressants: These are used less and less because they are associated with an increased risk of adverse effects. However, they have applications beyond depression and are also helpful when other antidepressants fail.
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors.
- Atypical antidepressants.
What are they used for?
According to the Editorial Board of Public Education of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the efficacy of antidepressants in treating major depression is between 50 and 65%. The problem is that, on many occasions, they are used without being indicated; for example, in cases of mild depression or superficial mood problems.
However, these drugs can be useful as a treatment for other pathologies. They are prescribed for panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and eating disorders (such as anorexia ). Finally, they can be used in cases of post-traumatic stress or to relieve chronic pain.
Can antidepressants reduce empathy?
Empathy is defined as the ability to perceive or share others’ feelings, emotions, and thoughts. In people with depression, this quality is often affected. This is explained in the Journal of Psychology and Education because emotional regulation is altered.
What was unknown until recently was that antidepressants can also reduce empathy. This was validated thanks to research carried out at the University of Vienna, although more studies are still required to penetrate the real association.
In this research, they studied, in the first instance, what empathy was like in people with depression who were not under any treatment. After three months, they re-measured this ability after the end of the antidepressant approach.
What was observed was that the treated people did not suffer as much when seeing other people’s pain as they did before the treatment. The experiment was carried out using functional magnetic resonance images, in which brain activity could be checked by putting videos or images that should have awakened empathy.
In this way, it is suggested that depression itself has a negative impact on this ability, but that the same treatment to cope with it can lead to a more noticeable decrease in empathy.
Other side effects of antidepressants
Antidepressants are drugs with great therapeutic utility. However, they are not happy pills, nor are they free from side reactions. In addition to the possible impact of reducing empathy, many other adverse effects are related to its use.
One of the most relevant is the increase in suicidal thoughts. It can occur during the first weeks of treatment, especially in those under 25 years of age and adolescents. That is why it is very important to monitor these patients closely.
Other symptoms that appear more frequently are nausea, vomiting, and changes in body weight. Depending on the antidepressant being taken, there is a greater tendency to increase fat in the body. For example, it is expected from tricyclics like amitriptyline, as explained by the Mayo Clinic.
Many people often complain of constipation, fatigue, and drowsiness. However, other patients report that they suffer from insomnia. They can also cause dry mouth and hypotension.
Antidepressants may reduce empathy, among other effects
Antidepressants are medicines used to treat the symptoms of major depression. Although they improve the quality of life of many patients, it is important to know that they are drugs that also have side effects.
According to what new research reveals, one of them seems to be the decrease in empathy, although not conclusive. What is essential to remember is that these drugs must always be taken with a prescription, and they must be closely monitored.