An emotional inertness in which you are neither able to cry nor share a real belly laugh

Feeling distant or detached

Feeling less empathy for others

Emotional Blunting: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

By Nancy Schimelpfening Updated on November 09, 2021
Medically reviewed by Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS

When first starting antidepressants, you may suddenly find that you don’t feel like yourself anymore. Though your depression symptoms may have improved, the overwhelming waves of gloom can sometimes be replaced by an emotional inertness in which [you] are neither able to cry nor share a real belly laugh.

If you feel this way, you are definitely not alone. In fact, there’s a term used to describe this feeling—called emotional blunting—which aptly captures the dulled emotional state many people experience while on antidepressants.

Symptoms of Emotional Blunting

Emotional blunting means that your feelings and emotions are so dulled that you neither feel up nor down. You simply feel “blah.” People who experience emotional blunting will often report:

  • Being less able to laugh or cry even when appropriate
  • Feeling less empathy for others[1]
  • Loss of motivation and drive[2]
  • Not being able to respond with the same level of enjoyment that you normally would


Supporting Evidence

Similarly, an online survey of 1,431 antidepressant users from 38 countries aimed to identify the most common adverse side effects of treatment. Emotional numbness” was ranked number one, with 70.6% experiencing the symptom. “Feeling distant or detached” was a close second at 70%, while “not feeling” like yourself was third with 66.2%.[5] The study didn’t specify which types of antidepressants were used.

All three of the most commonly reported negative side effects of antidepressants can be considered forms of emotional blunting.

A smaller study from New Zealand involving 180 people on long-term antidepressant therapy found that 64.5% experienced emotional blunting. Related side effects included sexual difficulties (71.8%), not feeling like yourself (54.4%), and a reduction in positive feelings (45.6%).[6]

Finally, a Canadian study involving 896 participants, 49.9% of whom had major depressive disorder (MDD) and 50.1% of whom had bipolar disorder (BP), found that emotional blunting was one of the main reasons for the discontinuation of therapy.[7] In fact, after weight gain and excessive sleepiness, emotionally blunting ranked third in the reasons to stop treatment among people with MDD.

  1. Price J, Cole V, Goodwin GM. Emotional side-effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors: qualitative study. Br J Psychiatry. 2009;195(3):211-7. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.108.051110
  2. Aydemir EO, Asian E, Yazici MK. SSRI induced apathy syndrome. Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences 2018;8(2):63-70.  doi:10.5455/PBS.20180115111230
  3. Goodwin GM, Price J, De bodinat C, Laredo J. Emotional blunting with antidepressant treatments: A survey among depressed patients. J Affect Disord. 2017;221:31-35. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2017.05.048
  4. Patel K, Allen S, Haque MN, Angelescu I, Baumeister D, Tracy DK. Bupropion: a systematic review and meta-analysis of effectiveness as an antidepressant. Ther Adv Psychopharmacol. 2016;6(2):99-144. doi:10.1177/2045125316629071
  5. Read J Williams J. Adverse Effects of Antidepressants Reported by a Large International Cohort: Emotional Blunting, Suicidality, and Withdrawal Effects. Current Drug Safety. 2018;13(3):176–186. doi:10.2174/1574886313666180605095130
  6. Cartwright C, Gibson, K, Read, J. et al. Long-Term Antidepressant Use: Patient Perspectives of Benefits and Adverse Effects. Patient Preference and Adherence. 2016;10:1401–1407. doi:10.2147/PPA.S110632
  7. Rosenblat JD, Simon GE, Sachs GS, et al. Treatment effectiveness and tolerability outcomes that are most important to individuals with bipolar and unipolar depressionJ Affect Disord. 2019;243:116-120. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2018.09.027

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