Researchers indicate online drug reviews can provide important data about antidepressant harms not otherwise reported to drug regulatory agencies.
A new study investigating why patients stop taking antidepressants found the most common reason given was the adverse physical and mental side effects experienced. The findings add to prior research revealing the troubling, and even dangerous side effects of these mind-altering psychotropic drugs.
Researchers in the U.S. and U.K. analyzed 667 reviews posted on the online health forum WebMD by users of seven common selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants. The most common reason users gave for discontinuing antidepressants was the negative side effects they experienced.
Mental side effects were the adverse events most mentioned in the reviews, including apathy, anxiety, insomnia, loss of sexual drive, and suicidal ideation. These side effects were reported more often in the online posts than in the formal reporting systems set up by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.K. Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, leading the researchers to note that the online comments provide valuable, additional information for government drug regulatory agencies about the adverse effects of SSRIs.
“It is not merely feasible to collect data from online comments and reviews regarding SSRI medication changes, but…doing so can provide important supplementary information to reporting systems,” wrote lead author Su Golder, PhD, of the University of York in the U.K., reporting in JAMA Network Open.
Other top adverse events reported by SSRI users as reasons for discontinuing antidepressants were physical side effects, such as dizziness, drowsiness, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, weight gain, itchiness, excessive sweating, and sexual dysfunction.
“It is not merely feasible to collect data from online comments…regarding SSRI medication changes, but…doing so can provide important supplementary information to [regulatory agency] reporting systems.”
— Su Golder, PhD, University of York, United Kingdom
“These results suggest that reasons for changes in SSRI use can be identified in online drug reviews and that adverse events mentioned may reflect those more salient to patients for discontinuing their medication,” according to Golder.
Though the study was intended to discover why SSRI users discontinue antidepressants so that ways to keep them on the drugs could be developed, the study provides additional evidence of the harm from the drugs that users contend with. Other recent research findings on the negative effects of antidepressants are much more disturbing.
A 2019 study indicated that the rate of attempted suicide was about 2.5 times higher in those taking antidepressants as compared to placebo. Those results were similar to a 2016 study that found antidepressants, given to healthy adult volunteers with no signs of depression, doubled their risk of suicidality and violence.
Antidepressant use has risen significantly over the past 15 years – and so have suicides and senseless acts of violence like mass shootings. In 2020, some 45 million Americans, or roughly one in seven, were taking antidepressants, up from 34 million in 2006. This 32% increase in users parallels the 35% increase in suicides in the U.S. over the same period. During the same time, many school shootings and other acts of senseless violence were committed by individuals taking antidepressants or in withdrawal from them.
A 2020 study found that half of antidepressant users experience sexual problems that can strain their relationships and lead to a worsening of their depression. In a 2017 survey of antidepressant users, 44% of respondents reported the drugs negatively impacted their sex lives, 27% their ability to work or study, and 21% their relationships with friends or family.
For all the risk of serious side effects, recent research has found little, if any, benefit to antidepressants over placebos. A 2022 study found no clinically significant difference in measures of depression symptoms between adults treated with antidepressants and those taking placebos, whether over a shorter or longer time frame and regardless of the depression severity of the study participants.
Another study in 2018 found that those who used antidepressants any time during the 30-year period of the study had an 81% greater chance of having more severe depression symptoms at the end of that time.
More fundamentally, a landmark 2022 study questioned the prescribing of antidepressants at all, after finding the common reason for taking them – to correct a supposed chemical imbalance in the brain – had no scientific basis. The study investigated whether evidence supported the theory that a low level of the brain chemical serotonin causes depression.
“The serotonin theory of depression has been one of the most influential and extensively researched biological theories of the origins of depression,” the researchers wrote. “Our study shows that this view is not supported by scientific evidence. It also calls into question the basis for the use of antidepressants.”
WARNING: Anyone wishing to discontinue or change the dose of an antidepressant or other psychiatric drug is cautioned to do so only under the supervision of a physician because of potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) continues to raise public awareness of the risks of serious side effects and withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs, so that consumers and their physicians can make fully informed decisions about starting or stopping the drugs.
CCHR also recommends a complete physical examination with lab tests, nutritional and allergy screenings, and a review of all current medications to identify any physical causes of depression or other unwanted mental and behavioral symptoms, which might otherwise be misdiagnosed and incorrectly treated as a psychiatric disorder.