One of the more serious side effects of commonly prescribed drugs is depression. According to a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (June 12, 2018), 37 percent of U.S. adults are taking prescription medications that can potentially cause depression or increase the risk of suicide. Although there's been a 25 percent increase in suicides in the U.S. since 1999, the risk of depression as a side effect of prescribed drugs is widely under-appreciated by doctors and patients alike.
In the JAMA report, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago looked at prescription medication use by more than 26,000 American adults. The authors were surprised to find that depression or suicide is associated with more than 200 commonly prescribed drugs. The list includes beta blockers to treat high blood pressure, steroids like prednisone, proton pump inhibitors to treat acid reflux, drugs to treat psoriasis, prescription strength ibuprofen, and even birth control pills.
Use of drugs that can potentially cause depression increased from 17 percent to 24 percent over the ten-year study period, says lead author Dima Qato. "The likelihood of reporting depression was significantly higher among adults using multiple medications," said Dr. Qato. For example, 15 percent who took three or more of these drugs reported depression, compared to 7 percent who took only one drug with ties to the mood disorder" (healthday.com). This is the first detailed study exposing the role of prescription drugs as a contributing factor to the increasing number Americans diagnosed as being depressed.
Looking at the entire U.S. population, an estimated 5 percent now suffer from symptoms of depression, a disturbing trend that has evolved into a full-blown public health crisis. According to the CDC, nearly 45,000 Americans took their own lives in 2016.
"Although the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends depression screening for adults, the authors stated that common depression screening instruments don't incorporate evaluations of prescription medications that list depression as a possible side effect" (medpagetoday.com). Qato adds that "further investigation needs to be done on drug-drug interactions so that health care professionals can recognize if patients are using multiple medications that increase the risk of depression or suicide" (usnews.com).
Although not involved in the study, Dr. David Roane, chairman of psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, offers this advice: "People suffering from depression would do well to have an evaluation by a physician or a psychiatrist who is aware of all of the medical and pharmacological association with depression so they can be aware of things that might be contributing to the depression" (healthday.com). Qato adds: "For some patients, this may involve revising their medication regimen before initiating an antidepressant or psychotherapy."
This study was limited to adults 18 years of age and older taking prescription drugs. Further studies are needed to determine if certain segments of the population, especially the elderly, are more susceptible to depression side effects when taking these drugs.