A recent study released by Columbia University has found that compared to data from 1996, the number of Americans taking antidepressants doubled to 10.1 percent of the U.S. population in 2005, increasing across both income and age groups. Another recent study also found that diagnoses of major depression in adults increased from 3.3 percent in 1991-1992 to 17.1 percent in 2001-2002. It is unclear, however, whether there are more people with depression or if doctors are prescribing antidepressants more readily. The study also found that the number of children aged 6-17 that take antidepressants jumped to 78 percent during this time period as well. By 2005, an estimated 26 million Americans ages six and older were taking the drugs, while their use of psychotherapy declined.
The data further showed a jump in the use of antidepressants across demographic groups, with the exception of African Americans; the rate of use of the medications among the black population in 2005 was 4.5 percent less than in whites. The new study also found a greater emphasis placed on medicine solving the problem of depression, not therapy, which resulted in a decline in non-drug therapy. In 1996, about 36 percent of people being prescribed antidepressants also underwent therapy, while in 2005 the number decreased to 20 percent. Mark Olfson, the lead author of the study, says the decline in therapy could be caused by the fact that people have to pay more out of pocked for that treatment. He goes further to say that therapy and medication together is the most effective way to treat depression.
Each person treated for depression in 2005 also filled their prescription more than they did in 1996, 5.6 times in 1996 and 6.9 times in 2005. This surge in antidepressant sales propelled this class of treatment to become the top selling U.S. medication in 2005, surpassing blood-pressure medications. Olfson stated these findings emphasize the need for doctors who are not psychiatrists and who prescribe these medications to be trained to diagnose and manage depression so patients receive the most effective treatment. Rising use of the drugs may be a result of more Americans acknowledging they are depressed, the introduction of new antidepressants, an increase in direct-to-consumer advertising, and a lessening stigma for seeking mental health care.
The data in the study was collected from the 1996 and 2005 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys, which are sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.