Antidepressants, usually prescribed for depression and anxiety, can at times cause a variety of side effects like nausea, weight gain, loss of sexual desires, etc. And now a new study, published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics in September 2017, has revealed that antidepressants may elevate the risk of death. According to the study, antidepressant users were 33 percent more likely to die than non-users. Furthermore, the study found that people taking antidepressants had 14 percent higher risk of developing cardiovascular problems, including strokes and heart attacks.
The role of antidepressants in increasing the risk of death is associated with the action mechanism of brain serotonin, a chemical neurotransmitter known to affect mood. Antidepressants act by blocking the absorption of serotonin by neurons. At the same time, these drugs interfere with the absorption of serotonin in the major organs of the body, including heart, lungs, kidneys and liver. Significantly, these organs also use serotonin from the bloodstream to perform their respective functions. The researchers said that disruption in the supply of serotonin to these organs due to antidepressants elevates the risk of death by impairing the functions of these organs.
Physicians often prescribe antidepressants without a formal diagnosis of depression, thinking that they are safe. But, Marta Maslej, a researcher at the McMaster University, Ontario, and co-author of the study, said, “Our findings are important because they undermine this assumption. I think people would be much less willing to take these drugs if they were aware how little is known about their impact outside of the brain, and that what we do know points to an increased risk of death.”
The researchers warned patients to avoid taking antidepressants without proper caution. They emphasized that before taking them, the users should precisely know how these medications interact with the body. Benoit Mulsant, a psychiatrist at the University of Toronto, emphasized on the need of more research in this direction.
Antidepressants: use and overuse
Antidepressants help alleviate symptoms of depression like feelings of sadness and exhaustion, and prevent relapse. These drugs help restore emotional balance while making people resume normal lives. Physicians also prescribe antidepressants to deal with other problems like sleeplessness, restlessness, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Moreover, these drugs may be useful to people with cardiovascular diseases like diabetes and heart ailment due to their blood thinning properties.
In the United States, antidepressants are among the three most commonly used prescription medications. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), around 12.7 percent Americans aged 12 and over took antidepressant medication in the past month during 2011-2014. Moreover, 25 percent of antidepressant users in America were using them for 10 years or more.
Promoting sensible use of antidepressants
In the wake of such a high prevalence of antidepressant use in the U.S., it is important to raise awareness about right prescription practices and sensible use of the drug. Keeping this point in mind, Antidepressant Death Awareness Month is observed every year in October. The day commemorates those affected by or have succumbed to the use of antidepressants, while educating people about its right use and possible side effects.
Though antidepressants are not addictive like alcohol and heroin, some people might experience withdrawal symptoms like nausea, tremors and depression on abstinence. Therefore, it is imperative to consult a mental health specialist before starting or discontinuing antidepressants.
The 24/7 Mental Health Helpline, a credible mental health helpline in the U.S., offers effective information about reputed 24/7 mental health treatment centers. If you or somebody you know is grappling with any mental health problem, call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-653-8178 or chat online to know more about 24/7 mental health treatment center in your vicinity.