Anti-depressant side-effects concern

MICHAEL DALY
Last updated 09:24 28/02/2014

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An online survey of more than 1800 New Zealanders on anti-depressants has highlighted concerns about the widespread use of the medication.

The study by researchers from the universities of Auckland and Liverpool found of those using anti-depressants:

- 62 per cent reported experiencing sexual difficulties

- 60 per cent reported feeling emotionally numb

- 52 per cent reported feeling not like themselves

- 42 per cent reported a reduction in positive feelings

- 39 per cent reported caring less about others

- 39 per cent reported feeling suicidal, rising to 55 per cent among those aged 18-25.

- 55 per cent had withdrawal effects

But the study also showed the overwhelming majority also found the medication helped reduce their depression.

Study co-author Dr Kerry Gibson, from the School of Psychology at the University of Auckland, said one in nine adults - and one in six women - in New Zealand were prescribed anti-depressants every year.

"Yet our study found potential side-effects are more common than previously thought and those effects can seriously impact on people's well-being and quality of life," Gibson said.

Lead researcher Professor John Read, from the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society at the University of Liverpool, said the the psychological and interpersonal effects of anti-depressants had been largely ignored or denied.

"The medicalisation of sadness and distress has reached bizarre levels," he said.

"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 these effects when prescribed the drugs.

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

Dr Claire Cartwright of the University of Auckland's clinical psychology programme said the high frequency of reported adverse effects raised the issue of whether people dissatisfied with their medication were more likely to have participated in the survey.

But an overwhelming majority - 82.8 per cent - of people in the survey reported that they believed the drugs had reduced their depression.

"That's a higher rate than many studies of anti-depressants so that if this survey had attracted a disproportionate number of people not satisfied with their medication then you would have expected that figure to be much lower," she said.

The online questionnaire about experiences with, and beliefs about, anti-depressants was complete by 1829 adult New Zealanders who had been prescribed anti-depressants within five years of the study.

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A report of the study, in which more than 40 per cent of participants also reported gaining weight, was published online by Psychiatry Research.

- Stuff

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