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Can Antibiotics Cause Depression?

Katelyn Hagerty FNP

Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 4/9/2022

Antibiotics are a crucial tool for modern health — an area of science that has saved countless millions of lives. And for that benefit alone, it makes sense that we accept some minor side effects to reap the life-saving benefits of antibiotics. But what about when it comes to antibiotics and depression?

And, can antibiotics lead to depression? 

There may be some associated risks between depression and the use of antibiotics. Read on to learn more. 

Some Basics on Depression

Depression can take many forms, but at its core, it is a collection of mood disorders characterized by recurring sad, hopeless or down thoughts. 

“Recurring” is an important word in the world of depression, because a diagnosis requires a pattern of feelings to emerge. That pattern must also affect how you handle daily activities. Depression isn’t just sadness; it’s sadness that impairs your daily life. 

With clinical depression, those depressive symptoms must be present more or less every day for at least two weeks of time for a diagnosis to be made. 

Other forms of depression like seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may affect you in other periods (like in the cold winter months.)

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), depression may be caused by a variety of factors such as genetics and your environment. Biological and psychological factors may also increase your risk of developing depression. 

Certain illnesses and conditions may increase your risk of depression, too, as might diabetes, high blood pressure, and poor health and hygiene.

Link Between Depression and Antibiotics: Your Gut 

It’s important to understand the relationship between your physical health and depression to understand how antibiotics may affect your risk of developing depression. 

There is a concept based on the “brain-gut axis,” which essentially theorizes that the relationship between the brain and the gut is crucial to the healthy function of both.

In recent years, evidence has emerged linking depression and antibiotic use. In fact, recent studies have shown evidence that depression may be triggered (or at least the risk for it may be increased) when a person’s intestinal flora — the gut biome — is disrupted.

The hypothesis, then, is that one of the most significant and sudden causes of gut flora disruption — antibiotics — may increase your chances of developing depression, or at least play a role in the onset of mood disorders.

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Can Antibiotics Cause Depression?

The short answer here is that we don’t know yet. Scientists are studying this area closely, but there are many questions that have yet to be answered. 

A recent study found a potential association between prescription antibiotics and major depressive disorder. The researchers hypothesized that depressed patients were more vulnerable to infections, suggesting that the opposite is true: Depression may be responsible for a weakened immune system (a symptom of depression recognized by the likes of the National Institute of Health).

Should You Avoid Antibiotics if You Have Depression?

You might be wondering which antibiotics cause side effects of depression, and the answer isn’t simple.

There isn’t a lot of data on the medications in the antibiotics world that will or do cause depression, but there is data supporting depression as a potential side effect for an increasing number of medications. 

Medications like fluoroquinolone and its derivatives have been associated with increased risks for depression.

This is an ever-changing field of study. It’s important to understand that a fear of depression should not prevent you from taking medications prescribed by your healthcare provider, especially for potentially serious infectious diseases. 

If you have previously been depressed, are currently depressed or are seeing signs of depression, or if you’re worried about the dangers of antibiotics due to a family history of depression, it’s best to speak with a healthcare professional about these concerns (particularly, before you begin taking antibiotics). 

It is likely that worse things may come from failing to treat an infection than from the treatment itself, but if your risk of depression is substantial, letting a healthcare provider know about your concern is a crucial safety mechanism for protecting your mental health while treating your physical health.

Treating Depression

If you’re seeing signs of depression, regardless of antibiotic use, you should not ignore your symptoms. Depression is a serious condition, and left untreated, can permanently affect your quality of life.

There are several ways to treat depression, but here are the three categories that offer the most potential benefit:

Antidepressants

Sure, it’s possible that some medications might cause you to experience depression, but there are also medications that a healthcare professional might recommend to fight depression, too: antidepressants

Antidepressants affect the neurotransmitters in your brain for the purpose of regulating certain chemicals, thereby helping your brain to regulate its mood. 

Studies have shown that one of the most effective antidepressants is the class called serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

These medications affect the serum serotonin levels in your brain, providing a larger supply of serotonin for the ultimate purpose of helping to stabilize your mood. 

While the FDA has put a black box warning on all antidepressant medications, SSRIs are generally considered the safest and least likely to cause serious side effects of all antidepressants, and typically a mental health professional will prescribe these first, and only move to other options if you suffer adverse effects.

Therapeutic Practices

Whether you’re experiencing mental health issues for the first time or have been suffering for a long time, therapy may be one of the most effective ways to help you control your thoughts and better moderate your mood. 

These days, therapists like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a form of psychotherapy designed to help people suffering from mood disorders better regulate their thoughts and the way they respond to negative thoughts. 

A mental health professional might teach you how to use CBT to cope with the day-to-day effects of depression or other mood disorders, like anxiety.

Habit and Lifestyle Changes

As with your gut biome, there are numerous links between your mental health and physical health that should be considered if you’re struggling with depression. Irregular sleep, poor diet, poor health, insufficient water intake and countless other factors that harm your body have also been linked to mental health problems over time. 

Your best bet is to get sleep, eat well and exercise. Exercise alone has been shown in some research to be as effective as certain types of medication in helping people with mood disorders.

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Depression and Antibiotics: The Big Picture

If you’re seeing psychiatric symptoms after completing an antibiotic treatment, it may be one of the most important signals that you need to talk to a healthcare professional.

There's no need to worry about risks or links between antibiotic use and depression when you have an infection, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be vigilant as well. It’s wise to consult with your healthcare provider if you’re at risk for depression and/or have experienced it before. 

Mental health disorders can happen to us all, and when your brain function can be affected by seemingly unrelated conditions, it's a good idea to err on the side of caution and get attention before things get worse. 

If you're ready to talk to someone today, consider hims' options for online therapy and mental health support. Whether you use us or someone else, get the help you need today. 

7 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Klaus Linde, Levente Kriston, Gerta Rücker, Susanne Jamil, Isabelle Schumann, Karin Meissner, Kirsten Sigterman, Antonius Schneider
  2. The Annals of Family Medicine Jan 2015, 13 (1) 69-79; DOI: 10.1370/afm.1687. Retrieved from https://www.annfammed.org/content/13/1/69.
  3. Depression Basics. (n.d.). Retrieved January 08, 2021, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml.
  4. Hao, W. Z., Li, X. J., Zhang, P. W., & Chen, J. X. (2020). A review of antibiotics, depression, and the gut microbiome. Psychiatry research, 284, 112691. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31791704/.
  5. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). (2019, September 17). Retrieved January 08, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/ssris/art-20044825.
  6. Celano, C. M., Freudenreich, O., Fernandez-Robles, C., Stern, T. A., Caro, M. A., & Huffman, J. C. (2011). Depressogenic effects of medications: a review. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 13(1), 109–125. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181967/.
  7. Lee, J. W., Lee, H., & Kang, H. Y. (2021). Association between depression and antibiotic use: analysis of population-based National Health Insurance claims data. BMC psychiatry, 21(1), 536. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34711196/.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.