One in four people in the United States are being treated for depression and anxiety.
Now a new study is looking at the impact of antidepressants on those who take them.
Dr. Christina Dolan is the director of the University of Florida’s Clinical Research and Education Program and the lead author of a study that was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
“There’s been a lot of interest in antidepressant use in the past couple of years, but in the field, there’s really been a focus on people taking these medications for depression or anxiety,” said Dolan.
“But what we were interested in was how these medications affect these people, how they affect their cognitive functioning, their mood, their overall health, and how they might impact the use of these medications in the community.”
In the study, researchers recruited 2,000 people in Florida and used them as part of a larger study that also included people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression.
“What we found is that antidepressant use is associated with a decline in cognitive function,” said Dr. Jennifer E. Zalubowski, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University at Buffalo.
“And cognitive impairment is a marker of depression.
So we were very interested in whether those changes would occur in the people who were taking antidepressants.”
The study involved asking people to complete two measures of depression and cognitive functioning.
They also completed a measure of how well they were coping with a stressful life event.
“We asked participants to self-report whether they were experiencing any of the symptoms that are correlated with depression, such as fatigue, loss of interest, feeling hopeless, feelings of worthlessness,” said Zalabowski.
“So we were able to look at what those changes are and how those changes might impact their use of antidepressant medications.”
Dolan said the participants who took antidepressants showed signs of cognitive impairment.
“If you have a mental disorder, and you’re on a medication, it makes you less able to think,” said said Dolicos.
“It makes it harder to plan for your day, it’s harder to remember, it doesn’t let you concentrate on things that are important to you.”
She said the cognitive impairment was particularly pronounced in those taking antidepressants.
“When you have an antidepressant, you don’t get the benefit of the full effect of the drug,” said Shira Shaker, a PhD student in psychiatry and behavior sciences at Rutgers University.
“This is the first study that has looked at whether this cognitive impairment associated with antidepressant use might be due to cognitive impairment,” said Sheehan.
“A lot of studies are looking at whether cognitive impairment might be associated with the effects of antidepressants, but this study showed that the cognitive deficits that people are seeing with antidepressant treatment are really different than the cognitive problems that they were seeing before treatment.”
In their research, Dolan and her colleagues found that when people took antidepressants for depression, they experienced more cognitive impairment than those who didn’t.
“The difference in cognitive functioning was significant in people who took antidepressant medication,” said Elisha Dolan, a clinical psychologist in Sarasota, Florida.
“They did worse on the cognitive measures of executive functioning, attention and memory, and it was significant.”
“This study is the most important in the history of psychiatric research because it’s the first to look in a large population at how these antidepressants affect cognitive functioning,” said Lise Langer, the chair of psychiatry at Emory University.
And, in addition to the effects on cognition, the researchers found that antidepressant treatment had a significant impact on the use and enjoyment of other medications.
“For some people, antidepressants were helpful, and for others, it was detrimental,” said Mandy Zalumbi, director of clinical studies at the Florida Psychiatric Research Center.
“They didn’t enjoy some of the medications, they didn’t like some of their medications.
It’s a real paradox.”
While the results were not as dramatic as those from other studies, Zalumbrowski said the researchers are hopeful that their study will help inform the community.
“I think that what we’re really looking at is the impact that antidepressants have on cognitive functioning and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” said Kati Mancuso, director and founder of the Center for Cognitive Enhancement.
“These are things that we need to be learning and testing.
It would be good to know what the impacts are, what the benefits are, and then see if we can incorporate those into community programs.”
Zalumbo said the study could help to inform other studies about the effects antidepressants might have on people.
“As we continue to do these studies, we are learning more about what these drugs do to the brain, and what it means for people’s mood and their ability to function,” she said.
“With these studies we’re hoping to learn more about how we can use