In America, after a startling homicide occurs, there is a lot of talk about society and guns and violence culture and what we should ban, everything from guns to video games. Much less discussed, because we don't want to demonize mental illness, is the overwhelming prevalence of psychiatric medications in those events.

It does the public and patients a disservice to dismiss one factor and focus solely on others; we could end up solving the wrong problem and helping no one at all.

A new paper finds that the situation involving mood-leveling medications could be even more dire than previously believed. A survey of 1,829 people who had been prescribed anti-depressants found large numbers of people, over half in some cases, reporting on psychological problems - thoughts of suicide, sexual difficulties and emotional numbness - due to their medication. This paper adds to growing concerns about the not only the scale of the problem, such as over-prescription of medications, but how well they solve more problems than they cause.

Psychologist and lead author Professor John Read from the University of Liverpool, said in their statement, "The medicalization of sadness and distress has reached bizarre levels. One in ten people in some countries are now prescribed antidepressants each year. While the biological side-effects of antidepressants, such as weight gain and nausea, are well documented, the psychological and interpersonal effects have been largely ignored or denied. They appear to be alarmingly common."

Each person completed an online questionnaire which asked about twenty adverse effects. The study was carried out in New Zealand and all of the participants had been on anti-depressants in the last five years. The survey factored in people's levels of depression and asked them to report on how they had felt while taking the medication.

Over half of people aged 18 to 25 in the study reported suicidal feelings and in the total sample there were large percentages of people suffering from 'sexual difficulties' (62%) and 'feeling emotionally numb' (60%). Percentages for other effects included: 'feeling not like myself' (52%), 'reduction in positive feelings' (42%), 'caring less about others' (39%) and 'withdrawal effects' (55%). However, 82% reported that the drugs had helped alleviate their depression.

Read concluded, "Effects such as feeling emotionally numb and caring less about other people are of major concern. Our study also found that people are not being told about this when prescribed the drugs.

"Our finding that over a third of respondents reported suicidality 'as a result of taking the antidepressants' suggests that earlier studies may have underestimated the problem."


Citation: John Read, Claire Cartwright, Kerry Gibson, 'Adverse emotional and interpersonal effects reported by 1829 New Zealanders while taking antidepressants', Psychiatry Research, 3 February 2014, DOI:10.1016/j.psychres.2014.01.042