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U.S. Antidepressant Use Rises Twofold

Depression and antidepressant use

Between 1996 and 2005, use of antidepressants in the United States doubled while the use of psychotherapy (talk therapy) declined significantly. Antidepressants are now the most commonly prescribed class of drugs in America, surpassing prescribed blood pressure medications.

Results of the study, which were published in the August issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, show that during the ten-year period, antidepressant use rose from 5.84 percent to 10.12 percent. This translates to an estimated increase from 1.3 million to 27 million users older than six years of age. The study population included a total of 18,993 individuals in the 1996 survey and 28,445 in the 2005 survey.

The increase in antidepressant use varied across sociodemographic groups. Among African Americans, the rate of antidepressant use was 3.61 percent in 1996 and 4.51 percent in 2005. In the Hispanic population, the respective rates were 3.72 and 5.21 percent.

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The study’s authors speculate that antidepressant use has risen for several reasons, including an actual rise in major depression, the FDA approval of several new antidepressants during the study period, and a general expansion in the availability of mental health treatment.

It also appears that antidepressant use has continued to increase since the 2005 figures were documented. According to a report by Scott Hensley on National Public Radio on August 5, 2009, the group Wolters Kluwer Health Pharma Solutions state that total prescriptions for antidepressants was 230 million in 2008, which was an increase of 27 million, or 13 percent, from 203 million in 2005.

It is unknown whether this upward trend of antidepressant use will continue, especially in view of the current economic crisis. A recent study (July 2009) published in Lancet, for example, reports that “the rising rates of suicide and murders in the population are directly associated to the growing unemployment rates originated by the economic downturn.” Whether the financial turmoil experienced by millions of people will translate into a rise in antidepressant use remains to be seen.

National Public Radio report August 5, 2009 by Scott Hensley
Olfson et al. Archives of General Psychiatry 2009; 66(8): 848.
Stuckler D et al. Lancet 2009 Jul 25; 374 (9686): 315-23.