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New York Times: Could Rising Rates of Depression, even Suicide, be Linked to Common Medications?

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An unnerving article we just discovered in the New York Times asks a penetrating question: could the rise in rates of depression and suicide be somehow linked to increasing use of common prescription drugs, some of which are also available over the counter? This inquiry was prompted by a just-released report showing that more than one-third of all American adults are currently taking at least one prescription drug that lists depression as a potential side effect, and nearly ten percent are taking three or more of such potentially damaging medications.

Seniors Often Misdiagnosed

You’ll find the New York Times article here. We think this is an extremely important article for just about everyone, but especially for those caring for seniors, many of whom are on prescription drugs. If your loved one has begun exhibiting signs of depression, including loss of sleep, loss of appetite, lack of energy or a host of other symptoms, it may be time for a complete review of their list of medications.

Sadly, it’s not uncommon for some physicians to misdiagnose symptoms of depression among their senior patients, instead treating these symptoms as if they were “normal parts of aging.” (The problem of seniors receiving improper diagnoses for depression and other mental health issues was the topic of this recent article on the USNews website. It’s worth a read.) This is one more reason why we at AgingOptions recommend so strongly that senior patients entrust their health care to a geriatrician, a doctor trained to understand the unique medical needs of older patients. Choosing the right doctor can literally be a life or death decision. If you’ll contact us here at AgingOptions we’ll be happy to recommend a geriatrician in your area.

200 Depression-Causing Drugs

According to the New York Times article, there are roughly 200 prescription drugs that list “depression” among possible side effects. Reports the Times, “the list includes common medications like proton pump inhibitors (P.P.I.s) used to treat acid reflux, beta-blockers used to treat high blood pressure, birth control pills and emergency contraceptives, anticonvulsants like gabapentin, corticosteroids like prednisone and even prescription-strength ibuprofen. Some of these drugs are also sold over-the-counter in pharmacies.” The authors of the study, which was reported last week in JAMA, were surprised at how many drugs were on the list, the New York Times article says. “It was both surprising and worrisome to see how many medications have depression or suicidal symptoms as a side effect, given the burden of depression and suicide rates in the country,” the study’s lead author stated.

The point, the article says, is not that taking these medications “causes” suicide or depression among those who are otherwise already healthy. However, researchers found a clear correlation between the amounts of some of these drugs a patient takes and the prevalence of depressive symptoms. The research showed that, among patients taking one potentially depression-causing drug, about 7 percent had depression, compared with the general population where the rate of depression is below 5 percent. Patients taking two or more such drugs had a 9 percent rate of depression, while those taking three drugs or more showed a rate of depression that was more than three times the average, at just over 15 percent.

Correlation Can’t be Ruled Out

The increased risk of depression and even suicide associated with these drugs should make both physicians and patients’ families especially wary. While researchers remind us (with predictable caution) that they can’t definitively link the rise in depression and suicide with increased use of these suspect drugs, it seems foolish to rule out a correlation.  “There’s been an increase in suicide, that we know,” one Columbia University professor of psychiatry said. “Does it correlate to the use of these medications? The honest answer is we don’t know. Could it play a role? The honest answer is yes, of course it could.”

As we said above, a geriatric physician is the right medical professional to diagnose and treat the unique physical needs of retirement-age patients. But we all know that there’s more to retirement than staying physically healthy and having the right medical insurance, as important as that might be. Is there a “retirement professional” who can guide you into a comprehensively healthy future? Fortunately, the answer is yes – because that’s what we specialize in here at AgingOptions. Unlike others who approach retirement in a piecemeal way, our approach, called LifePlanning, fully integrates the five pillars of a robust retirement plan: financial, medical, legal, housing and family. When these are working at odds, retirement disaster is a virtual certainty. When these are working together, your retirement is far more likely to be fruitful, secure and rewarding.

Please accept the personal invitation from Rajiv Nagaich to join him at an upcoming AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar where he’ll share more about the power of a LifePlan. Remember, there’s no cost whatsoever, and no obligation. The information at our seminars may be free – but we think you’ll agree that the value will prove to be priceless. You’ll find all the currently scheduled seminars listed here – then you can sign up online to reserve your place or call us during the week. Our risk-free prescription for retirement security starts with an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. Age on!

(originally reported at

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