More than one-third of U.S. adults could be taking prescription medications without realizing the potential side effect of depression and a higher risk of suicide, according to a new study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that 37.2% of U.S. adults took such drugs. Hormonal birth control pills, blood pressure medication, and painkillers are just some of the more than 200 commonly used prescription medications that list depression or suicide as possible adverse effects.
“Many may be surprised to learn that their medications, despite having nothing to do with mood or anxiety or any other condition normally associated with depression, can increase their risk of experiencing depressive symptoms, and may lead to a depression diagnosis,” lead author Dima Qato, a professor at the university’s College of Pharmacy, said in a statement.
The fact that many of these drugs are used concurrently only exacerbates the problem by further increasing risk of depression, the study says. About 15% of adults who took three or more of such medications experienced depression compared to 7% for those only taking one.
“People are not only increasingly using these medicines alone, but are increasingly using them simultaneously, yet very few of these drugs have warning labels, so until we have public of system-level solutions, it is left up to patients and health care professionals to be aware of the risks,” Qato said.
The study’s findings are based on the patterned medication histories of 26,000 people from 2005 to 2014.
Depression is a serious problem in the United States. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a staggering 25% hike in suicide rates since 1999, and the recent deaths of well-known chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, and designer Kate Spade, further underscore the urgency of this national epidemic.
Qato hopes that her study’s findings will prompt people and health care providers to take depression more seriously.
“With depression as one of the leading causes of disability and increasing national suicide rates, we need to think innovatively about depression as a public health issue,” said Qato.