A large 40 year study, by the American Heart Association, of over 80,000 women in the USA has found that those with a history of depression had a 29% increased risk of stroke.
The researchers also found that women who had used anti-depressants particularly SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) at any point in the two years prior to the study, was 39% higher.
And here’s where our prejudices and presuppositions immediately kick in.
Those who are against anti-depressants will read this as further evidence of “the cure is worse than the disease.”
Those who see a role for anti-depressants in the treatment of serious depression will try to find other explanations for the facts.
For example, in this report on the findings, the BBC found public health and stroke experts to argue against any direct link between strokes and anti-depressant medication.
Dr Kathryn Rexrode, who led the research, said the medicines were more likely to be an indication someone was more seriously ill, rather than a cause of the stroke. She said: “I don’t think the medications themselves are the primary cause of the risk. This study does not suggest that people should stop their medications to reduce the risk of stroke.”
She added: “Depression can prevent individuals from controlling other medical problems such as diabetes and hypertension, from taking medications regularly or pursuing other healthy lifestyle measures such as exercise. All these factors could contribute to increased risk.”
That was echoed by Dr Peter Coleman, deputy director of research at the UK’s Stroke Association: “This research appears to indicate that women suffering from depression may be less motivated to maintain good health or control other medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which have an associated increased risk of stroke.”
My takeaways from the research are:
1. View depression as a serious condition with many damaging consequences.
Don’t dismiss depressed people as if they were merely suffering from a common cold, allergy, or a passing bad mood. Wherever depression starts – in the heart, in the brain, or in devastating providences – its ripple (tsunami?) effects are extensive and often life-threatening. Take this seriously, and get help early.
2. Medication alone is never the answer.
Much research into the benefits and drawbacks of anti-depressants take no account of the impact of social support, spiritual counseling, lifestyle coaching, etc.
Some research (usually funded by by talking-therapy advocates) shows that anti-depressants do little better than placebos. Other research (usually funded by drug companies) highlights a drug’s statistical success. But what help are any of these “facts” without knowing much more about the background and situations of these sufferers.
I have never seen anti-depressants work where there has not been a serious commitment to receiving and acting upon counsel about lifestyle, decision-making, social interaction, and spiritual needs. If you think that the sole answer to depression is a pill, you are in for a very long and dark journey – and possibly a stroke!
Having said that, sometimes, in really serious depression, unless there is a willingness to take medication, all the counsel in the world is going to go in one ear and out the other. The information cannot be received or successfully processed.
3. Be aware of our own prejudices and presuppositions when analyzing research.
When we read something that supports our existing conclusions, we are much more likely to believe it as true without any further analysis.
When we read something that challenges our faith, our reason, or our previously adopted public positions, out come our sharpened critical faculties to find the weaknesses and inconsistencies.
Sometimes, our response to research reveals more about ourselves than anything else.