Medication prescribing

Statins and Depression

Statin use may be associated with less recognition of negative affective bias in facial expressions, with reduced recognition of angry and fearful faces and decreases in learning about stimuli associated with loss.

To determine whether statin use is associated with cognitive markers that indicate psychological vulnerability to depression, researchers conducted the Oxford Covid-19 Social Isolation and Emotion (COSIE) study. This online, observational study included 2043 adults in the United Kingdom who participated in assessments between April 2020 and February 2021.

To be included, participants needed access to a computer with an internet connection and had to pass all task-understanding checks at baseline (phase 1). During the study’s next 3 phases, participants completed cognitive tasks that measured processes related to vulnerability to depression, including affective bias and reward processing. Their working memory, medication use, and current psychiatric symptoms were also assessed.

The researchers compared participants receiving statins alone (n=81), antihypertensive medication alone (n=126), both medications (n=111), or neither one (n=1725).

The researchers found that statin use was associated with less recognition of angry and fearful faces and greater misclassification of these expressions as positive. They also found that increased recognition of angry faces at baseline predicted greater levels of depression and anxiety 10 months later.

In contrast, these indicators of less negative affective bias were not found in participants taking antihypertensive medication alone, which suggests that they were related to statin use and not demographic factors. The researchers found no evidence that statin use was associated with an impairment in working memory.

“Statin use was associated with cognitive markers indicative of reduced psychological vulnerability to depression, supporting their potential use as a prophylactic treatment for depression,” they concluded.


—Ellen Kurek



Gillespie AL, Wigg C, van Assche I, Murphy SE, Harmer CJ. Associations between statin use and negative affective bias during COVID-19: an observational, longitudinal UK study investigating depression vulnerability. Bio Psych. Published online March 19, 2022. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2022.03.009