One third of United States adults take meds that can cause depression

Henrietta Brewer
June 16, 2018

The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for depression in the general adult population. To list a few of the commonly-prescribed medications are the heart medicines, birth control pills, and most of the painkillers.

A new study in JAMA estimates more than one third of US adults use prescription drugs that have depression or suicide listed as potential side effects.

For the study, Quato and her colleagues analyzed information provided by more than 26,000 USA adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2005 through 2014. Many are common drugs, including painkillers and birth control pills.

Overall, nearly eight percent of the participants reported depression.

Those who simultaneously used multiple medications (known as polypharmacy) were more likely to report depression, according to co-author Mark Olfson.


One drawback of the study, however, is that researchers lacked data on a history of depression, which can increase the risk of this mood disorder developing in the future, researchers note.

Numerous drugs are commonplace and not associated with a risk of depression despite the evidence showing their effects. The estimated prevalence of depression was 15 versus 4.7 percent for those reporting use of three or more medications with depression as an adverse effect versus those not using such medications.

Over one-third of participants were taking medications that had depression as a possible side effect. The study team wanted to determine if the participants are more or less likely to be depressed in comparison with the other people who didn't consume these medications.

Qato hopes the research leads to improved warnings on how these prescription medications could lead to depression.

Despite the results, the researchers say they didn't prove the medications cause depression.


The researchers found that the risk of depression was highest in people taking more than one drug with depression among its possible side effects. That jumped to 10 percent in 2013-2014.

Similar increases were found with drugs that list suicide as a potential side-effect.

It's also worth having a conversation with your doctor about whether you might be able to stop a medication, Mordecai says.

Qato wrote that people were using these drugs more both on their own and in tandem with others, and suggested that physicians needed to factor in those risks when considering a patient's health. "Talk to your doctor", Narula said. The study involved only those individuals who were above the age group of about eighteen years and were on at least one prescription drug regime between the period between 2005 and 2014.

If you take Prilosec or Zantac for acid reflux, a beta blocker for high blood pressure, or Xanax for anxiety, you may be increasing your risk of depression.


FMI:You'll find an abstract of the study on the JAMA website, but the full study is behind a paywall.

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