Millions of Americans take some sort of prescription medication each day - and many take two, three or more. Maybe a pill for heart burn and another for birth control, or one for high blood pressure and another as a painkiller.
But scientists are warning in a new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago that one-third of U.S. adults may be using prescription drugs that could increase the risk of depression or suicide.
On the heels of a new landmark study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which showed suicide rates jumping significantly in nearly every state since 1999, the researchers say the sheer bulk of people who may be taking the drugs is cause for some serious concern.
“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,” Dima Mazen Qato, the lead author of the study, told The New York Times.
The researchers found 200 commonly-used prescription drugs for things like birth control, blood pressure, pain, heart problems and more listed depression as a possible side effect.
Many people are taking several of the drugs at the same time, the researchers say, which they call "polypharmacy." The study authors looked at more than 26,000 adults between 2005 and 2014, and found that those using the drugs had significantly higher rates of depression than those who did not.
Notably, the rate also increased depending on how many drugs the patient was taking: 15 percent of those taking three drugs on the list at the same time got depression, 9 percent for those taking two at the same time and 7 percent for those taking one. The rate was 5 percent for those taking none of the drugs.
That doesn't prove the drugs caused depression - only that there was a "worrisome" pattern, the researchers pointed out.
"We didn’t prove that using these medications could cause someone who was otherwise healthy to develop depression or suicidal symptoms. But we see a worrisome dose-response pattern: The more of these medications that have these adverse effects that you’re taking concurrently, the higher the risk of depression,” Qato told The New York Times.
"The take away message of this study is that polypharmacy can lead to depressive symptoms and that patients and health care providers need to be aware of the risk of depression that comes with all kinds of common prescription drugs - many of which are also available over the counter," said Qato in a news release. "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."
Qato wrote that people were using these drugs more both on their own and in tandem with others, and suggested that physicians needed to factor in those risks when considering a patient's health.
"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, and this study provides evidence that patterns of medication use should be considered in strategies that seek to eliminate, reduce or minimize the impact of depression in our daily lives," Qato wrote.
Click here to learn how to help someone who may be feeling depressed or suicidal, and if you are feeling that was yourself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resourcesor SamaritansUSA.