A study just released at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association suggests that people taking prescription antidepressants appear to drive worse than people who aren’t taking such drugs, and that depressed people on antidepressants have even more trouble concentrating and reacting behind the wheel.
University of North Dakota psychologists recruited 60 people to participate in a driving simulation in which participants had to make a series of common driving decisions, such as reacting to brake lights, stop signs or traffic signals while being distracted by speed limit signs, pylons, animals, other cars, helicopters or bicyclists. The simulation tested steering, concentration and scanning. Thirty-one of the participants were taking at least one type of antidepressant while 29 control group members were taking no medications with the exception of oral contraceptives in some cases.
The group taking antidepressants was further divided into those who scored higher and lower on a test of depression. The group taking antidepressants who reported a high number of symptoms of depression performed significantly worse than the control group on several of the driving performance tasks. Those who did not report depression scored in the normal range.
This research is important in light of the rapid increase in the number of Americans taking antidepressants. Americans’ use of antidepressant drugs such as Prozac, Paxil or Zoloft, nearly tripled in a decade, according to the 2004 Health United States report, issued by the National Center for Health Statistics. Among women, one in 10 takes an antidepressant drug, according to the government.
It is important to note that while the results of herbal supplements were not tested on the same simulations, herbal products such as St. Johns Wort or Rhodiola rosea may be a safer alternative. Rhodiola rosea is one of the fastest growing categories in the herbal dietary supplement category for depression; the herb is noted to increase cognition and mental acuity, which should make drivers more aware of safe driving practices.