More Americans using antidepressants

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

According to a new report published in the August issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, antidepressants are now one of the most commonly prescribed classes of drug in the United States. Treatment for mental health conditions has led more Americans to use antidepressants, perhaps because of awareness of depression symptoms and acceptance of treatment options.

Between 1996 and 2005, antidepressant use in America rose from an estimated 13.2 million to 27 million. Mark Olfson, M.D., M.P.H., of Columbia University Medical Center and New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York, and Steven C. Marcus, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia analyzed data from Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys, sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to find that antidepressant use in America has increased from 5.84 percent to 10.12 percent. The scientists are not clear whether major depression is more widespread among Americans, or if increased use is a combination of factors.

Included in the study were 18,993 individualsm age 6 and olderm from 1996 surveys, and 28,445 individuals from 2005 surveys. Data revealing antidepressant use was provided by an adult household member answering questions related to medical conditions, physician visits, and prescription treatments, allowing researchers to extract information related to depression treatment from a large sampling of the US population.


The authors write, "Significant increases in antidepressant use were evident across all sociodemographic groups examined, except African Americans, who had comparatively low rates of use in both years (1996, 3.61 percent; 2005, 4.51 percent). Although antidepressant treatment increased for Hispanics, it remained comparatively low (1996, 3.72 percent; 2005, 5.21 percent)."

Even though antidepressant use is increasing among Americans, psychotherapy has taken a downward trend according to the analysis. The study authors say use of antidepressants in the United States has taken precedence over psychological interventions to treat depression. Clinical guidelines for treatment of depression support the use of antidepressants, and several new drugs were approved by the FDA between 1996 and 2005.

More Americans are taking antidepressants, yet fewer are receiving psychological care. The authors say the introduction of new antidepressant drugs, encouraged for clinical use, combined with more people suffering from major depression may be contributing factors as to why more Americans are using antidepressants.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009;66[8]:848-856