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Antidepressant Risks: Deadlier Than You Think? Or Lifesaving Agents?

Millions of Americans Take Antidepressants – Also Known As SSRIs

Time Magazine reports that “clinical depression affects about 16 million people in the U.S. and is estimated to cost the U.S. about $210 billion a year in productivity loss and health care needs.”  It’s no wonder, then, that – as of 2017 – approximately 11 percent of Americans are taking antidepressants. Reports indicate that depression is on the rise in the U.S. and more and more people are taking SSRIs. The most recent numbers indicate that antidepressant consumption has increased by nearly 65 percent since 2002, when only 7.7 percent of Americans reported taking an antidepressant. The question is, are antidepressants safe? Since the 1980s, when SSRIs were introduced, medical experts have claimed these medications were relatively safe with fewer side effects than the antidepressants of yesteryear. A new study calls these claims into question, although the study poses more questions than answers.

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A Recent Study Shows That Antidepressants Increase The Risk of Death?

According to a recent study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, taking antidepressant medication increases the risk of death by 33 percent. The study also revealed that those who take antidepressants have a 14 percent higher risk for cardiovascular problems like stroke and heart attack. Researchers at Canada’s McMaster University have determined that Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) can prevent major organs from functioning properly by blocking the absorption of serotonin from the body’s bloodstream. Serotonin is a vital chemical used by the heart, kidneys, lungs and liver. According to the researchers, this block of serotonin increases the likelihood of an early death and could enhance the chances of cardiovascular problems. “We are very concerned by these results,” Paul Andrews told Lia Eustachewich at The New York Post. (Andrews is an associate professor at McMaster who led the research team.) “They suggest that we shouldn’t be taking antidepressant drugs without understanding precisely how they interact with the body.” Andrews and his team conducted a meta-analysis of 16 studies, summing up existing research from approximately 375,000 participants, looking for a link between mortality and antidepressant use. However; there is not much information available about how the team made the jump from studying the participants and arriving at their conclusions.

What The Latest Study About Antidepressants Doesn’t Tell You

While the news that antidepressants can increase the risk of death by 33 percent seems….well…..depressing…. there is a lot of information this study leaves out. The study specifically reports that “those taking antidepressants had a 33 percent higher risk of dying prematurely than people who were not taking the drugs.” What the study doesn’t specify is, “How much more prematurely?” How many years of life will taking antidepressants shave off someone’s life? Ten? Twenty? Fifty? This notable lack of information calls the validity of the data into question. Furthermore, many of the headlines reporting the findings of the study are quite laughable. For example, the title of Eustachewich’s New York Post article is “Study Finds Antidepressants Increase Risk Of Death.” Think about this for a minute. In no uncertain terms, each and every one of us is going to die. Every breath we take increases the risk of death! Speaking in these general terms does not offer enough specific information about the risk antidepressants actually pose to someone’s health and undermines the authority of the researchers. Finally, the study does not offer information about how these conclusions were drawn. Although the theory that interfering with serotonin could have an adverse effect on someone’s health seems valid, it is not clear how the researchers arrived at their conclusions. The study sought to find a link between mortality and antidepressant use, but how they concluded that antidepressants increase cardiovascular problems by 14 percent is unclear.

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Many People Swear They Can’t Live Without Antidepressants And Don’t Care About The Risks

Year after year, scientists and medical experts put out new studies like this one, claiming they have new information about the risks of SSRIs. Many of those who take them for mental health issues seem unconcerned. “I have bipolar disorder and after many painful years of trial and error, I am finally on the right combination of meds. I feel great,” said Martha M., a recovering addict who lives in Idaho Falls, Idaho. “I don’t care what any of the studies say, I would never go off my medication. I would rather live a happy and productive life and die a few years younger than be totally unmanageable and miserable like I used to be.” Martha is not alone. So many people who struggle with mental health issues like bipolar, anxiety, depression, and panic attacks say they rely on their antidepressants to keep them stable, sane, and functioning. These people say they don’t care what the most recent studies claim to have uncovered about the dangers of antidepressants. “I remember reading a study once that said antidepressants could increase the likelihood of stroke. I got totally freaked out,” said John P. of Twin Falls, Idaho who has 12 years of sobriety. “I suffer from depression. I went off my medication and went into a complete downward spiral. I was a total mess. Now, I just ignore all these so-called studies that tell me I could have a heart attack or die younger because of antidepressants. The fact is, I could die tomorrow of a heart attack. I would rather be comfortable in my own skin and take my happy pills than go off my meds and go nuts like I did when I read that study a few years ago.”

What Are SSRIs Anyway? What Do They Do Exactly?

We’ve told you about the most recent published study and its findings. We’ve also told you that many people don’t care what the studies show. Now, we want to educate you about SSRIs, tell you how they work, and explain what people take them for. SSRIs are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. They are a classification of antidepressant medication used to treat mental health disorders like depression, bipolar, anxiety, PTSD, and panic attacks. However; depression is the number one reason why people take antidepressants. SSRIs work to prevent the absorption of the chemical serotonin, which produces feelings of pleasure, contentment, and well-being. People who have depression or other mental health problems have lower levels of serotonin than those who do not. SSRIs work to promote healthy levels of serotonin in the brain and restore the chemical balance to a place of wellness. SSRIs help with emotional regulation. Without a proper level of serotonin in the brain, people suffer from a completely hopeless state of mind. It is reported that as many as 90 percent of all people who have a mental health disorder respond positively to treatment with antidepressants. ” column_min_width=”[object Object]” column_spacing=”[object Object]” rule_style=”[object Object]” rule_size=”[object Object]” rule_color=”[object Object]” hide_on_mobile=”[object Object]” class=”[object Object]” id=”[object Object]”][object Object]

The Most Commonly Prescribed SSRIs In The United States

According to the Mayo Clinic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved these SSRI antidepressants to treat depression:

  • Citalopram (Celexa)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Vilazodone (Viibryd)

These medications ensure that there is a proper balance of Serotonin in the body. Serotonin is vital to health and wellness.

Serotonin Makes You Feel Good, But What Else Does It Do?

Serotonin is commonly referred to as the “feel-good” chemical in the brain. It is responsible for making us feel happy, joyous, and content. But, did you know that serotonin has a number of other jobs? Here are some other functions of serotonin, which is responsible for helping your body operate at its full potential:

  • Bowel function. Most people don’t know that most of the body’s serotonin is found in the gastrointestinal tract. Here, it regulates bowel function and movement. It also helps to reduce your appetite.
  • Mood regulation. Serotonin helps to maintain a stable mood and regulate emotions.
  • Blood clotting. Serotonin is responsible for the formation of blood clots. When you are wounded, Serotonin helps to reduce blood flow.
  • Producing appropriate diarrhea. If you eat something that is toxic, Serotonin will help your body get rid of it. (Surprising, right!?)
  • Sexual function. Proper levels of Serotonin ensure that you maintain a healthy sexual appetite and it also ensures adequate sexual performance for men.

What Happens As The Result Of Low Serotonin? Symptoms of Depression Are Sure To Follow

We have established that Serotonin is vital to your health and wellness. What happens if you don’t have enough of it? You can have a disruption to your bowel function, blood rhythm and sexual appetite if you are low on Serotonin. But, it is usually the debilitating symptoms of depression that drive someone to make an appointment with the doctor and consider taking an SSRI as a solution. These unpleasant symptoms of depression can be corrected with antidepressants:

  • Loss of motivation
  • Unexplained sadness (not caused by a life event such as a death in the family)
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Fatigue
  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts, ideations, attempts, and actual suicide
  • The overwhelming need for too much sleep
  • On the flip side – insomnia
  • Isolation – the desire to withdraw from social relationships
  • Physical body aches
  • Tightness in the chest
  • A sense of heaviness in the mind, body and spirit
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • On the flip side – a compulsion to overeat
  • Restlessness
  • Weight loss or weight gain

While having “the blues” on occasion is part of the human experience, living with clinical depression is no way to live at all. Clinical depression is defined by Web MD as “living with a constant sense of hopelessness and despair” with some or all of the symptoms listed above. Most people who experience clinical depression find that they can barely function. They find it almost impossible to meet their daily responsibilities and go to work, school, or perform their daily tasks as a parent. Depression is not a sign of weakness or a lack of moral strength. You can’t act or think your way out of a depressive state. Clinical depression is a sign that there is a lack of Serotonin in the body, which must be corrected with medication.

Sadly, Suicide Is a Very Real Outcome For Many Who Suffer From Depression

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States with more than 16 million Americans suffering from the condition. With depression often comes the fatal and unfortunate decision of suicide. Here are some very unsettling statistics about suicide from The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

  • Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States.
  • Every year, approximately 44,193 people die from suicide.
  • For every one suicide, there are 25 suicide attempts.
  • On average, there are 121 suicides every day in America.
  • Firearms account for approximately 50 percent of suicides.
  • Men die by suicide 3.5 times more often than men, but women attempt suicide twice as often as men.
  • Middle-aged men are at the greatest risk for suicide.

Some estimations suggest that as many as 90 percent of all people who commit suicide struggled with depression or some kind of mental health issue. It is not clear how many of these people could have been saved if they were taking the right antidepressant.

Despite What The Newest Study Says, Antidepressants Are Lifesaving Agents For Millions Who Suffer From Depression

We presented information from a study at the beginning of this blog that reported antidepressants can increase the risk of death. We would like to make clear that we are still confused at the correlation these researchers have made. We all know we are going to die, although we just don’t know when. How do antidepressants increase the risk of death? We’re not sure. What we do know is that SSRIs do help decrease the likelihood of suicide. Despite what this latest study reports, most mental health professionals and researchers agree that antidepressants are relatively safe and very effective for preventing suicide. In fact, there have been a number of studies conducted worldwide that have shown that as antidepressant prescriptions have gone up, suicide rates have gone down. We believe this proves that while SSRIs may pose some health risks, their benefits completely outweigh the potential risks – especially as it relates to suicide. We heard from John P. earlier in this blog on the subject of depression. Let’s let him weigh in again: “I am alive today because of Zoloft. I was so depressed before I started taking it, I was totally suicidal. I had a plan and everything. I was going to use my .357 Magnum to blow my brains out. By the Grace of God and because of the support of my family, I made the decision to take the medication and it completely changed my life. I believe antidepressants are life-saving agents.”

Many People Take SSRIs Because of A Co-Occurring Disorder

Not everyone who take SSRIs take them because of depression. Antidepressants have been proven effective for other mental health diagnoses. For example, an estimated one in three people who have been diagnosed with a substance abuse problem have also been diagnosed with some kind of mental health condition. Without first treating bipolar, schizophrenia, PTSD, anxiety, depression, or whatever the condition may be, recovery from addiction is almost impossible. People who have an undiagnosed mental health condition often self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. In order to treat the addiction, they first need to address the underlying mental condition. This happens with antidepressants. Studies have shown that antidepressants can actually enhance the recovery process. Many people who make the bold and courageous decision to stop using drugs and alcohol battle severe depression and overwhelming cravings in the first year of recovery. Antidepressants combat the symptoms of depression and help with cravings, increase the chances of sobriety, and make it that much more bearable in those early days.

Taking Antidepressants Is a Very Personal Decision – One That Should Be Made With The Help Of A Doctor

If you are taking antidepressants – or you are considering taking them – please don’t let the research study presented in this blog scare you from taking the medication you need for the benefit of your mental health. All the information we currently have available on SSRIs reports that they are relatively safe and incredibly effective for treating mental health conditions. They have also been proven to enhance the recovery process. Making the decision to continue to take your meds – or to stop taking them – is a very person decision. However; it is not one you should make alone without guidance. If you are concerned about the safety of the antidepressant or antidepressants you are currently taking, talk to your doctor or your mental health team about your concerns. Do not stop taking your medication by yourself. This could have detrimental consequences.