Antidepressants work by stabilizing our moods and numbing our emotions which can be the answer when struggling with your mental health. In the whirlwind of young romance, dulling our feelings of love can add to the list of difficulties when navigating relationships for the first time. Is it worth numbing our lows if we don’t get to experience the highs of romance?
By Lucy Wilcox
8.3 million people take antidepressants in the UK. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) work by increasing serotonin, the ‘happiness’ chemical in our brains. Typically used by those who struggle with depression and anxiety, SSRIs work by numbing the negative feelings that come with mental health conditions.
Through signalling the brain to increase serotonin uptake, they essentially hijack dopamine signals. This leaves us without feelings of heightened emotion like love and elation. SSRIs help to stabilise moods but this can also neutralise feelings resulting in emotional blunting.
Emotional blunting describes the dulling of heightened emotions such as love and affection which can make finding your match difficult.
Experiencing dating and relationships includes an intense range of emotions. This can be tainted through taking SSRIs from the nerves before a first date, to managing libido and even falling in love.
How it can help in dating
In some instances, feeling emotionally numb can cause those who have previously been overwhelmed with panic attacks or spells of low mood to feel more in control and confident.
Beth Parkin, 20, a student from York has been taking sertraline for over a year, an SSRI used to treat her anxiety.
She said: “My mum said I was like a different person, I was extremely shy and now I can do things without anxiety actually inhibiting my life.
“Personally, it has been a very positive experience, it kind of changed my life from the get go.”
Before going on antidepressants, Beth struggled to date or pursue anyone romantically due to her anxiety.
She said: “When you’re in an anxious headspace, you only think about yourself, so you don’t want to think about another person.
“I probably wouldn’t have dated if I wasn’t on anti-depressants because even going for a drink with someone caused me so much anxiety.”
Sertraline has enabled her to be more extroverted allowing her to feel ready to pursue a relationship.
She said: “I wanted to explore that side of me which I had never been able to do before.”
Beth met her girlfriend of five months at a LGBTQ+ club night and she feels for the first time that she can be fully transparent about her mental health struggles as well as her use of sertraline.
On the other hand, scientific research suggests that serotonin enhancing antidepressants can jeopardise the ability to fall in love.
Sam Joy, 19, a mechanic apprentice from Brighton was prescribed citalopram to combat his depression. His experience of SSRIs was short lived as he felt it prevented him to pursue anything romantic.
During this time, Sam was pursuing his now long-term girlfriend he said: “It numbed out all the good feelings as well as the bad ones, but it didn’t make me want to grow, explore or get excited about a relationship.”
During the rushes of emotion and excitement getting into your first relationship normally entails, Sam felt held back.
He said: “It felt like I wanted to feel everything I was supposed to, but I couldn’t.”
Sam made the decision to come off antidepressants in order to explore the medley of romantic emotion which enabled him to fully invest in his partner.
He said: “I think you need to understand your emotions to say how you truly feel before numbing them out.”
Speaking to the experts
In many circumstances, antidepressant use can be the make or break for people that are really struggling and allow people to live normal, everyday lives.
Matt Albiges, 45, a relationship therapist from Aligned with Love said: “Being able to give that person antidepressants to get them through that short term is arguably the most preferable option to anything damaging or more difficult than not being able to cope.”
Antidepressants can provide a short-term fix in regulating emotions. It can identify the root cause of mental health conditions is at the heart of making relationships work, Albiges added.
When describing antidepressant use, Albiges used an analogy comparing mental health struggles to cracks in walls and antidepressants as the wallpaper over the cracks.
He said: “It makes sense why people wallpaper over the cracks, it makes people feel better or numbs the problem short term, without really addressing the underlying problems long term.
“Generally, there’s not a lack of wanting help from partners of people who are using antidepressants. It’s just if all we know is wallpaper, partners will recommend more wallpaper.”
Lowering your libido
Of course, it isn’t as easy as that and it takes a lot to commit yourself if you’re struggling with your mental health, but breakthroughs are possible.
Ollie Rawlinson, 23, a journalist from Carlisle has been with his partner since he was 18.
During the first phases of their relationships both Ollie and his partner were taking antidepressants. This presented challenges like reduced libido and blaming each other for the way they were feeling.
He said: “It was frustrating because we wanted to have sex a lot, but it seemed that we didn’t want to when we did.
“It was hard to see eye to eye all the time when your emotions are so clouded.
“I thought it was an attack on me at first and I got resentful, but we were obviously starting out and we didn’t really know much about each other.”
Turning things around
As their relationship progressed, Ollie took the decision to come off antidepressants. He emphasised the importance of being there for each other and having your partner on board throughout taking the medication and if you’re ready to come off them.
Navigating relationships whilst taking antidepressants may not be all bad and can unlock deeper understanding and support from your partner.
Ollie said: “I think even if sertraline didn’t work chemically, we gained a better understanding of each other and both our emotions by taking medication, we may not have been in the place we are now.”
Taking antidepressants is a personal choice that should be taken seriously by medical professionals. They affect everyone differently in all aspects of their life including romantically.
It is important to note that these ‘happy pills’ can affect your highs when fixing your lows which may be considered before taking medication.
Albiges said: “The best port of call is to do whatever you can to get to the underlying issue and that requires work on your own and with your partner, it’s a bit more intensive than scratching the surface.”
This is not professional medical advice. If you, or someone you know is struggling with their mental health please seek medical advice from your GP or find resources at the mental health charity Mind.