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I wanted to ask your opinion on anti-depressants, since I took them daily for 3 years now, but I can't be sure if I'm less perfomant with them or without, since I never withdrawed.

I'm still at school at the age of 25, still having some motivation problems (for example I can't get used to do something at school if I don't think it will teach me something), but I'm quite motivated to work in the video-game field, since I have some personnal projects in mind.

I know C++ programming etc, I'm still learning techniques, but do you think I should try more to do my project instead of just following the work I'm assigned to ?

Have you had experience with depression or anti-depressants ? How did it affect your work ? Do you think that being depressed or half-depressed can improve creativity ? Do you feel it has affected the way you end up writing your algorithms ?


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closed as off topic by David Thornley, Rook, tcrosley, Walter Jan 4 '11 at 21:11

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You should learn to mix programming with lots of physical activity. Take to football or hiking, these are better than the anti-depressants you've been relying on. –  Programming Enthusiast Jan 4 '11 at 16:00
@Jon - You're a psychologist? –  billy.bob Jan 4 '11 at 16:06
IMHO, anyone who takes on a sedentary career should involve themselves in physical activity. I don't think it takes a psychologist to see that. Try 2-3 weeks of activity for yourself and see if you don't feel at least somewhat better. I can speak from my own experience, being only a developer who runs. (sometimes at lunch to clear my head during a hectic day) –  DevSolo Jan 4 '11 at 16:10
@DevSolo, that's like saying, "Here, just put a bandaide on your amputated limb. It's always made me stop bleeding when I had a small cut" If you've been clinically diagnosed with depression and have been prescribed drugs by your psychiatrist, it's because he or she thinks that is the best course of action, if exercise would have been a remedy, don't you think they would have suggested it instead? –  Malfist Jan 4 '11 at 16:15
@Malfist, I guess I wasn't clear. I was merely trying to say those of us that sit 8-10 hours a day, should move 30-60 minutes as well. And my through personal experience, I feel better. I wasn't advocating it as a solution or answer, at least completely. I would have 'answered' in that case. I was trying to put my $0.02 in a comment. –  DevSolo Jan 4 '11 at 16:48

9 Answers 9

Depression and anti-depressants can reduce one's ability to think and focus, sure. How much varies by the individual and drugs involved. The standard disclaimer of, "Your mileage may vary," applies here greatly.

I was on anti-depressants for a couple of years then off then for about 8 months and have been back on them for about 4.5 months. I don't think they had a great impact on me as other things were likely a bigger deal health-wise for me, like being diabetic, sleep apnea, and a few other things beyond my anxiety and depression. Being a perfectionist doesn't help, but I'm coming around on embracing that part of me and trying to moderate how much it affects my work.

If there was an impact there would be a little mellowing but therapy, physical exercise and a few other things all make a big difference too. The main thing is to have some positives in life that can help pull one out of the rut/funk that can get one down. In my case, I was having sleep problems, pain problems and life wasn't looking good at all.

Being depressed can help creativity in terms of finding the bad in nearly everything, at least in my case. Whether I should go here or there, I could find reasons why either was a bad choice with very little effort on my end. This isn't necessarily a good thing as it isn't that simple to just negate the idea and that makes a positive as the world is often several shades of grey rather than black and white. Thus, I'm not sure that it is a good boost of creativity that comes from depression. I will admit to having a rather diverse sense of humor that is still intact though.

It has affected the way I end up writing algorithms in a few ways. I may end up writing them slower as some days I may just not want to do anything. I may end up worrying so much about how something bad will happen that I self-sabotage my work as there are cases where even experienced developers can make simple mistakes at times. It can cause me to lose some pride in what I do as I may lose some self-esteem and feel worthless that can lead to lower quality work at times. This is without getting into the quality of life side of things that can also suffer.

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+1 for being the only one so far abilited to answer this question. –  user2567 Jan 4 '11 at 16:20

Anti-depressants don't make a person unproductive and uncreative. Depression does.

Now, it doesn't mean that a person who is in depression is always a worse employee than a person who is not. It's rather preferable to hire someone in depression but who knows what he's doing than someone who is unskilled, not serious, and doesn't bother about code quality by definition.

So yes, you will do a better work when you will not be depressed any longer. But don't think you are worthless as a developer because you're in depression: it's false.

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+1 for the first sentence. –  back2dos Jan 4 '11 at 16:19
Right, because what are the odds of taking a drug that alters your brain chemistry having any negative side effects on a particular individual? Who wouldn't be more productive when: constipated, drowsy, nauseous, blurred vision, agitated, and sexually inactive? –  JeffO Jan 4 '11 at 17:54
+1 - When I took antidepressants, I got more benefit from the fact that they worked than I had downsides (there were some, but not related to my code). –  Jason Baker Jan 4 '11 at 20:18

I was diagnosed very early on with ADD, which is now commonly called ADHD. I took Ritalin for it for a short time, my parents then pulled me off of the medication once they learned of the side effects.

The chemical roller coaster (mostly withdraw from Ritalin) resulted in chronic depression that lasted for about a year.

In my experience, and this is only my experience, my focus was better when I was the most depressed. However, as others have said, my creativity completely plummeted. I was able to do better with studies, or any other task that didn't require me to start with nothing and create something.

You should consider all areas of your life and personality that will change drastically if you elect to stop taking any kind of medicine, and always consult a physician before making that sort of change.

Also, try a healthy, full and balanced life style. Eat healthily, get plenty of sleep, don't drink too much caffeine (Dopamine producer), spend enough time outdoors and play with the little ones in your family whenever possible. You'd be amazed how much good spending 20 minutes in a child's imagination can do for you, and the child.

Programming has obviously turned out to be the most likely candidate for my life's work, but it is not my whole life.

Finally, I am not a medical doctor, I am not qualified to give you advice one way or another on what medication to take or not take. I'm simply sharing my personal experience, which happens to be relevant to your question.

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Same boat ADHD, went off ritalin when I was 13. Always had sleep problems, but I'm sure I used to get deeper sleep. I'm 21 now, sometimes I get depressed, which I think is due to current circumstances rather than my past, although I would be more predisposed to it. When I'm depressed or tired I can't get any boring work done, only the kind that I enjoy. –  Keyo Jan 4 '11 at 19:35

Do you think that being depressed or half-depressed can improve creativity ?

Usually it's the reverse, depression decreases creativity and activity.

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Did you experience this yourself or someone told you? Be careful with health advices. –  user2567 Jan 4 '11 at 16:12
@Pierre: I studied psychology before switching to computer sciences. That's what we learned in university. –  Niphra Jan 4 '11 at 16:42
@mctylt: I'm just enforcing this community guidelines. It's serious matters here. User should mention if either it's a personal experience or if the info is coming from an external source. In the last case, the external reference should be mentioned. Check you the FAQ: programmers.stackexchange.com/faq –  user2567 Jan 4 '11 at 16:44
@Pierre 303: This question is off-topic to begin with (this is not a mental health site, and mental illnesses are not specific to programmers), and so is not the sort of thing the guidelines were written for. There are circumstances where having one's health problems being generally available knowledge is bad, and this is probably more true of mental problems than physical. –  David Thornley Jan 4 '11 at 17:11
@David: programming is a profession which require high concentration, lot of collaboration within team and various departments, and most of the time, they work on critical stuff. On the other hand, programmers tend to be more depressive than others for the exact same reasons they choose programming at the first place (personality). I think that as programmers (some of us with some experience in profession), MUST help others programmers face professional problem like that. He is not asking some gardening advice, he is asking how depression can affect him in his profession. Programmer. –  user2567 Jan 4 '11 at 18:11

My two cents here, everyone reacts individually to medication, if you feel it is reducing your focus and creativity, talk to your doctor. There are lots of anti-depressant drugs, you may need a different one that does not affect those things.

As an aside you need to work on that motivation thing, or you will have trouble when you are out of school. If you are being paid to do a job, you need to be able to focus and do it even the boring parts that don't interest you. Even when you are depressed, even when your spouse has recently died and you are grieving or when a family member is diagnosed with cancer (all of which I have dealt with in the last three years, work doesn't stop because your personal life has problems at least not if you want to keep getting paid). I know you didn't mention personal problems as a reason why you have trouble focusing and being motivated but if you have trouble when the work is boring, it is even harder when there are other things happening in your life. It's one reason why learning how to do the work whether you feel motivated or not should be a top priority for you. Persistence is far more important than motivation. Now is the time to learn to work when you aren't motivated.

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I took anti-depressants for several months a few years ago and I think they had two effects.

Firstly, I never put work first ahead of family and refuse to be bullied into working extra hours, weekends etc. (Essentially the root cause of me needing the anti-depressants in the first place)

Secondly, and more relavent to your question; I'm convinced they tweaked my brain in a way that makes it harder for me to get into 'the zone'. Once there I can code away for hours as I've always been able to, but since taking the ADs I find it way harder to break through the invisible barrier of distractions and get started.

It could just be a symptom of getting older, but I'm sure the anti-depressants had a permanent affect.

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I was going to answer something along the lines of your second point. I took meds only for a few months about 6 years ago, and feel like it flipped a motivational switch in my head, making it much harder to focus. Many years later, I still struggle unless I'm very interested in the project. –  Fosco Jan 4 '11 at 17:55
I doubt it was the meds, chances are the obvious reasons you can't get into the zone are still there - you don't care for the project/work/job and you've grown older to lose your youthful naivety (or idealism). So you're just having problems being motivated - nothing unusual for 99% of the workforce there :) –  gbjbaanb May 29 '11 at 14:49

I am somewhat in the same waters. I've been suffering from depression for 2 and a half years and that has affected every aspect of my life including programming which is the only thing I enjoy doing. When I feel worse than normal I can't concentrate and can't program. That has kept me from learning many new things.

There is nothing positive to be gained from being depressed, I assure you being depressed doesn't improve anything in your life so no, it doesn't improve your creativity. I haven't yet been on anti-depressants for personal reasons but generally they should help. If you think they're not helping, then maybe you should speak with your counselor.

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This was intended as comment to JB King's answer but it grew a bit.

So, I have had more or less similar experience as described here.

Depression or anxiety can be have impact on cognitive, emotional and physical state of an individual. For example, I have often suffered from abdominal pain caused by depression and/or anxiety, and took Anti-you-name-it pills for a year and a half, and while they would quieten the symptoms, the main cause of depression were still the thoughts in my head. And that's something most of prescription drugs can't negate.

This is, in my layman opinion, the main reason for boosting or reducing your productivity while depressed. It can sometimes be beneficiary if you take your mind off the problems by doing some programing (with or without the help of pills), but sometimes the problems are/or seem too overwhelming and you just can't concentrate on anything besides them, thus severely crippling your ability to do any cognitive task.

My advice is, love is the greatest anti-depressant, though it can sometimes backfire...

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Obviously devote the necessary amount of time to school so you can graduate eventually. After that, spend time on your projects.

Specifically what drugs are you on? Adderall will definitely increase your attention span and programming ability.

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Adderall isn't for depression, it's for AD-HD –  Malfist Jan 4 '11 at 16:28
Which will probably work quite well since it's a stimulant. You think caffeine is good... –  Keyo Jan 4 '11 at 19:39

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