News: Are Prescription Medications Making You Depressed?

A new study shows that one-third of Americans may be taking meds that can contribute to depression.

Medically reviewed in June 2022

Depression in America is on the rise. 

Research shows that rates of depression increased significantly in the United States from 2005 to 2015, especially among young people. To make matters worse: the United States is the most depressed country in the world.  

While depression prevalence is rising, so is the use of prescription drugs with depression as a potential side effect. A June 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the use of prescription meds that have depression as a side effect—including those used to treat acid reflux, anxiety and high blood pressure—is quite common. 

So, are the rising rates of depression and use of medications with depression as a side effect connected? Here's what the researchers found.  

Certain prescription meds can increase the risk of depression
A team of researchers led by Mark Olfson, MD, a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, looked at data on 26,192 adults compiled from 2005 to 2014 as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey. Respondents listed all of the medications they were taking, and they completed a questionnaire to ascertain whether they had problems with their sleep, mood or appetite, or if they had any depressive symptoms or suicidal thoughts. 

More than one-third of study participants were taking medications that have depression or suicidal thoughts as possible side effects, so researchers wanted to understand whether or not these adults were in fact more likely to experience these side effects than the nearly 63 percent who weren't taking these types of drugs.  

The findings are concerning: About 15 percent of study participants who were taking three or more medications with depression as a side effect were depressed, and of those taking just one of these medications, 7 percent were depressed. In comparison, 5 percent of adults who didn't take any of these medications were depressed. 

Medications involved in the study
Americans are using some 200 prescription medications that have depression or suicidal thoughts as possible side effects, and the study involved many of them. Some of the most notable: 

  • Painkillers like ibuprofen and tramadol 
  • Blood pressure medications like metoprolol and atenolol 
  • Anticonvulsant drugs like gabapentin and diazepam
  • Hormonal medications like estradiol and ethinyl estradiol 
  • Proton pump inhibitors like omeprazole and esomeprazole 

What you should know about your own medications
Researchers admit that the study doesn't prove these types of medications will in fact cause depression; rather, if you are taking them, you may have an increased risk. And taking multiple drugs with depression as a side effect may enhance that risk of depression. 

If you're taking one or more prescription medications, make sure to speak with your doctor to understand the side effects and potential interactions. If depression is a concern, it's possible that there are other treatment options your doctor can prescribe. A lower dosage of a certain type of medication or a different combination of multiple medications may also be effective for your condition. Above all-regardless of potential side effects-you should never stop taking any medications you need without talking to your doctor first. 

You can use Sharecare, a mobile app for iOS and Android, to keep track of all your medications and how often you need to take them. It can be useful to have that information handy when you're talking with your doctor. 

And while you are taking medications that may have depression as a side effect, take note of any symptoms you have-specifically when it comes to your mood, sleeping habits and appetite. It's also a good idea to ask your loved ones to let you know if they notice any changes in your behavior or habits. And always discuss any concerning symptoms with your doctor.

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