Aren’t medications supposed to make you feel better? That’s one of the reasons why more than 40% of people over age 65 regularly take at least five different prescription drugs. But many drugs, including those commonly used to treat high blood pressure, heartburn and anxiety, can cause depression, according to a University of Illinois at Chicago study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in June 2018.

Among the study’s findings, it was determined that the more prescription drugs people took, the higher their risk of depression: About 7% of patients taking just one had depression compared to 15.3% of patients taking at least three of them.  That doesn’t mean that anyone who takes one of these prescription drugs will automatically become depressed — most older adults taking these prescription drugs don’t, but it does mean you should be aware of the signs of depression if you’re taking one or more of such medications.

According to the authors of the study, here’s what you need to be attentive to if taking prescription drugs that may cause depression:

Keep tabs on your mood

It’s normal to feel down from time to time, but if you’re experiencing a depressed mood most of the time for at least two weeks, you should see your doctor. Other symptoms to watch for include loss of interest in normally pleasurable activities, changes in appetite or weight, insomnia or sleeping too much, feeling exceptionally fatigued, trouble concentrating, feeling worthless and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

Review your meds

If you are feeling depressed, ask your doctor to sit down with you and go through all of your medications, and their potential side effects, with you. If your physician doesn’t seem well-versed in each drug’s side effects, or seems reluctant to do so, your pharmacist should be able to answer any questions you may have.

Make some tweaks

If your medication does seem to be the cause, you may not need to stop taking it — you may simply be able to lower the dosage. If that’s not possible, the next step is to try to switch to another class of medications. If there’s really no way for you to safely stop taking a medication, Mystic Valley’s Mobile Mental Health program’s clinicians will be able to figure out ways to treat your depression.

Know your medications

These medications are among the most commonly prescribed drugs that can cause depression in adults, according to the JAMA study.

  • Beta-blockers to treat high blood pressure
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Opioids
  • Corticosteroids
  • Over-the-counter proton pump inhibitors
  • Certain allergy and asthma medications
  • Anticonvulsant medications
  • Amitriptyline to treat nerve pain and prevent migraine headaches
  • Hormonal drugs

Prescription medication is an important remedy for one’s physical and mental health and wellness.  Many individuals benefit from using medication. But just as important is treating the emotional side of those with depression without using medication but using other means such as talk therapy, or psychotherapy, support programs and peer counseling.

Mystic Valley Elder Services plays an important role supporting people age 65 and over who experience depression—which is the most common ailment in this age group—and other mental health conditions to successfully remain in a community setting. Through its Mobile Mental Health program, clinical caseworkers provide outreach to elders experiencing depression that impact their functioning and ability to have their needs met.

The clinical caseworkers assess the needs of each elder and connect them with the appropriate service. This includes connecting them to home or outpatient therapy, support groups, various community support systems such as Adult Day Care Centers and Councils on Aging, and any additional supports that will improve their quality of life.

If you have any questions or concerns about your medication and possible side effects, please speak with your doctor. Another recommended route would be speaking to your pharmacist.

For more information about MVES’ Mobile Mental Health program, please call 781-324-7705.

Medication information used from Hallie Levine, AARP, February 14, 2019

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