Antidepressant use doubles in America

A new study finds that the use of antidepressants has almost doubled among people in the U.S. between the years 1996 and 2005 – increasing from 5.84 percent to 10.12 percent. That translates to a grand total of 27 million people.

In order to conduct this study, the authors Dr. Mark Olfson and Dr. Steven C. Marcus examined the Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys completed in 1996 and 2005 by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The surveys help to provide estimates about healthcare costs and consisted of approximately 50,000 people age  six and over.

After examining the data, the research team noticed that this significant increase did not hold true for African Americans (3.61 percent in 1996 to 4.51 percent in 2005) or Hispanics (3.72 percent in 1996 to 5.21 percent in 2005). They also found that the number of people taking part in therapy decreased from 31.5 percent to 19.87 percent, while the patients prescribed antipsychotic medications rose from 5.46 percent to 8.86 percent.

Dr. Mark Olfson tells HealthDay:

“The reasons [for the growth] are unclear but they may include the introduction of new antidepressants over the last 10 to 12 years or so and a broadening in the clinical indications of antidepressant treatment. Years ago, these drugs were largely focused on depression. Today, more different conditions are treated with antidepressants… There’s also been an increase in direct-to-consumer advertising and a lessening of the stigma associated with seeking mental health care.”

The study authors found a considerable increase in direct-to-consumer advertising, from $32 million in 1996 to $122 million in 2005. This is evident through the influx of television advertisements for antidepressants shown in recent years. (Does anyone else find the recent commercial with the woman and her wind up toy slightly creepy?)

Now that antidepressants are the most prescribed category of drugs in the U.S., Olfson expresses concern that these prescriptions might be taken too casually. He emphasizes to WebMD that the decision to take an antidepressant is between the physician and the patient and should be taken seriously in order to determine the best treatment plan.

The study is published in the Archives of General Psychiatry and more information on depression can be found here.

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