If you keep up with headlines, you’ve likely seen the buzz about weight loss drugs like Ozempic. These revolutionary drugs have made weight loss as simple as taking an injection or a pill, and the results speak for themselves.
Countless celebrities have opened up about taking the medication, causing its popularity to skyrocket and a shortage of Ozempic nationwide. But when something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Let’s examine the new weight loss drug’s mental health side effects.
What Is Ozempic?
Semaglutide is an antidiabetic drug sold under brand names such as Ozempic, Wegovy and Rybelsus. The FDA approved semaglutide in 2017. This injectable medication helps individuals with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels.
But, recently, Ozempic has been making headlines for another effect it can produce: weight loss. Semaglutide may have been created to treat diabetes, but it’s also been shown to help people efficiently lose weight.
Ozempic slows the rate at which food moves through your digestive tract, making you feel fuller for longer. Additionally, people tend to feel hungriest when their blood sugar suddenly drops or climbs — and Ozempic controls blood sugar levels, reducing blood sugar spikes. Lastly, some common side effects of Ozempic are nausea and vomiting, both of which can kill a person’s appetite.
This combination amounts to a drug that’s highly effective at helping people lose weight quickly.
Celebrities have spoken openly about their use of Ozempic to lose and manage their weight. Amy Schumer, Chelsea Handler and Elon Musk have all discussed their experiences with Ozempic, to name a few.
However, the enthusiasm around Ozempic has started to wane as people have realized that the drug comes with numerous side effects. Other celebrities have warned that any weight that was lost comes back as soon as you stop taking the medication.
But are there more harmful side effects lurking? It turns out that quick weight loss solutions could come at a high cost to your mental health.
Weight Loss Drugs and Mental Health Side Effects
In July 2023, the European Medicines Agency released a statement about the mental health side effects of semaglutide drugs like Ozempic. The agency had reviewed 150 reports of people who complained of an increase in thoughts of suicide, suicidal ideation and self-injury while taking Ozempic.
Just two weeks later, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency announced it had also received similar reports of suicidal ideation and self-harm and would be reviewing Ozempic. At this time, it’s unclear whether these symptoms were a result of the drug or preexisting conditions in the patients.
In Europe, the prescription label for Ozempic doesn’t mention mental health side effects. Initial clinical trials in these regions showed no signs of an increased risk of self-harm or suicidal thoughts.
The FDA requires that any medications sold in the United States that offer weight management by influencing the central nervous system come with a warning about suicidal thoughts. However, Ozempic is marketed as a diabetes treatment and hasn’t been approved by the FDA as a weight loss drug. As a result, the warning label for Ozempic doesn’t mention suicidal ideation or suicidal thoughts.
As of June 2023, the FDA’s adverse event reporting system (FAERS) has received 76 reported cases of self-harm thoughts, suicidal ideation or attempted suicide related to Ozempic. This number jumps up to 346 cases when reports of depression or anxiety are included.
However, at this time, the FDA doesn’t believe the reports have a strong enough correlation with taking Ozempic. FDA press officer Chanapa Tantibanchachai notes that “there has been no evidence of an increased risk of suicidal ideation, behaviors or death due to suicide in any of the clinical programs.”
Notably, anyone can submit a report to the FAERS system. As the system isn’t audited or verified, individuals can submit duplicate reports, meaning the numbers could be inflated.
Yet there’s some merit to the fear that Ozempic could trigger depressive thoughts. Wegovy is another weight loss management medication that is semaglutide-based. This medication warns of depression and suicidal ideation, meaning a clinical connection has been made between the drug and the side effect.
The Role of Health Care Professionals in Addressing Mental Health Concerns
It’s a health care professional’s responsibility to be aware of the risks and side effects associated with a certain medication. Anyone considering Ozempic should first speak to their doctor, as weight loss and mental health can have significant effects on each other. If you have a history of depression and anxiety, your care provider can provide you with more detailed warnings or work with you to find an alternative prescription.
Monitoring and Managing Mental Health While Using Weight Loss Drugs
Weight loss drugs might feel like an easy fix, but that doesn’t mean they’re the right solution for everyone. You should never prioritize a weight loss drug over your mental health.
If you notice signs of depression or anxiety after starting a weight loss medication like Ozempic, speak to your doctor immediately. They may try prescribing a different brand or type of weight loss drug or work with you to make other changes to your lifestyle or diet if medications aren’t for you.
Ultimately, weight loss isn’t going to solve all your problems. Many people believe that if they could just reach their goal weight, everything would “be right.” In reality, it’s better to focus on being physically, mentally and emotionally healthy. Don’t prioritize physical health goals at the expense of your mental health. If you need to lose weight, your weight loss journey should improve your mental health, not detract from it.
Feelings of depression and anxiety should never be ignored. FHE Health employs a team of compassionate, experienced staff who can help you work through any mental health condition. You’re not alone — contact us today to find a care program for you.