Last week jolted us with a double shock.
First came the suicide of venerated designer Kate Spade at just 55, fast followed by that of celebrated chef, author, and traveling TV personality Anthony Bourdain at 61.
Both seemed to have it all… fame, fortune, and (in Bourdain’s case especially) a lives of adventure well worth living.
If these recent events teach us anything, it’s that all of us are vulnerable to life-altering moments that can knock us down. And some folks just aren’t able to get up again.
Right before news of Bourdain’s death, the CDC released a report detailing how suicide rates in the U.S. have steadily been rising in nearly every state – now a whopping 30 percent higher than they were in 1999.
The official tally of suicides in the U.S. during 2016 alone totaled 45,000.
And, of course, TV doctors are now appearing in droves to talk about depression, bipolar disorder, and the importance of being diagnosed and getting on the right drugs ASAP.
But it turns out that this could do more harm than good, because there’s one cause of this ongoing tragedy that’s not being given the spotlight it deserves – even though the evidence has been clear for a quite a while now.
I’m not just referring to antidepressants, which have long been linked to suicidal behavior. There’s a list of drugs as long as your arm that are known to have caused people of all ages to do the unthinkable, and recognizing the symptoms of drug-induced depression could, in fact, save your life.
A pharmaceutical nightmare
While we focus on suicide whenever celebrities are the victims, most of the lives cut short by it belong to everyday people.
Douglas Briggs, for example, was a family doctor from North Carolina who took his own life at 54. Only 37 years old, a Minnesota man named Woody Witcza hanged himself from the rafters in his garage. Then, there was Cody Miller, a high-school athlete from upstate New York who was just 15 when he knotted a noose around his neck.
While those are only three names, there are many, many more victims of this heartbreaking epidemic who all had something in common: They were taking drugs that are believed to be directly responsible for their suicides.
Cody had been given the allergy drug Singulair. Douglas was taking the epilepsy med Neurontin to treat back pain. And Woody was prescribed the antidepressant Zoloft… not because he was depressed, but because he couldn’t fall asleep at night.
And this isn’t some far-fetched idea that greedy lawyers have come up with so they can sue drugmakers. It’s been acknowledged (even by the FDA!) for a very long time that there are a wide variety of drugs that can cause depression and “suicidal thinking.” And we’re learning about new ones all the time.
Take Singulair, for example. It doesn’t even seem possible that a drug dispensed for a stuffy nose and itchy eyes could cause “agitation,” “depression,” “disorientation,” “hallucinations,” and “suicidal thinking and behavior (including suicide)” — all FDA-mandated warnings on the box.
So, let’s say you’ve got allergies… but the meds you take for them make you depressed. Just pop a mood med, right?
Not so fast — because antidepressants like the Zoloft that Woody took are known for the ability to tip the scales for anyone who might have suicidal tendencies, children and adolescents in particular.
Another drug called Siliq, OK’d by the FDA just last year for the treatment of psoriasis, has been called a “suicide stunner” by one expert because of the numbers of self-inflicted deaths that occurred during its early trials. In fact, it came out of the gate with a black-box warning for suicide “ideation and behavior.”
Then, of course, there’s the widely advertised stop-smoking med Chantix. The FDA is sitting on hundreds of reports of suicides related to Chantix, as well as almost 2,000 attempted ones — yet the agency allowed Pfizer to strip the black-box warning about “serious neuropsychiatric events” from the packaging last year.
Drugmaker Roche has attempted to dance around the suicide issue for its anti-viral flu med Tamiflu (now also available as a generic), which comes with warnings on the label about “abnormal behavior” that in some cases can have “fatal outcomes.”
Those “outcomes,” however, have included a 16-year-old boy who hanged himself last year soon after starting up on the drug. And over a decade ago, it was implicated in the suicides of 12 children in Japan.
Other meds that can trigger depression (which is known to significantly up the risk of suicide) include beta-blockers for high blood pressure, steroids, and a drug used to treat cancer and viral infections called interferon alfa, which is said to cause depression in up to 40 percent of patients.
But that’s only the beginning. A report done by UK scientists in 2014 identified 110 different drugs linked to a risk of depression, which frequently goes hand-in-hand with an attempt at suicide. And there are likely a whole bunch more.
With so many meds associated with suicidal behavior, taking any drug is almost a crapshoot when it comes to how it can affect your mind.
There are, however, some warning signs to watch out for, such as:
- Any episodes of depression that coincide with starting up – or stopping – a med. It can happen quickly… or months later.
- Adverse mental effects that can crop up when your dose has been upped, even if you’ve been taking a drug for a long time.
And depression in seniors, especially ones who are isolated from family members, can be particularly brutal. A recently published study found that simply being up in years is a “consistent and important risk factor” for major depression. And getting effective treatment also gets more difficult the older you are.
Please remember, if you become depressed for any reason, never, ever try to go it on your own. Talk to a trusted friend or relative or call the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24/7 at 800-273-8255.
“US suicide rates increased more than 25% since 1999, CDC says” Susan Scutti, June 8, 2018, CNN, cnn.com