Dramatic Increase in Antidepressant Use

From Medscape Online:

October 20, 2011 — Antidepressant use by Americans has risen dramatically in the last 5 years, with almost 1 in 10 individuals older than 12 years now taking these agents, according to data released from the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

However, the survey, which was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also showed that less than one third of those taking a single antidepressant between 2005 and 2008, and less than half of those taking multiple antidepressants, visited a mental health professional in the past year. Those who did make such visits were significantly more likely to be men than women.

“Females are more likely than males to take antidepressant medication at every level of depression severity,” writes lead author Laura A. Pratt, PhD, from the Office of Analysis and Epidemiology at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) in Hyattsville, Maryland.

The study was published online October 19 as an NCHS Data Brief.

400% Increase

According to a 2010 report released by the CDC, antidepressants were the most frequently prescribed prescription drug between 2005 and 2008 for adults aged 18 to 44 years, and the third most commonly used drug for all ages.

That report also showed that use of antidepressants increased by almost 400% for all ages from between 1988 and 1994 to the period between 2005 and 2008.

The NHANES is a continuous survey conducted by the CDC’s NCHS. It focuses on the health of the US population and consists of a household interview and a visit to a mobile examination center for a physical examination.

For this analysis, data were examined for 12,637 participants aged 12 years and older between 2005 and 2008.

Questions from the Patient Health Questionnaire were included in the NHANES to assess depression symptom severity.

Results showed that almost one third of people with severe depressive symptoms took antidepressants during the study. Although more than 60% of these individuals took this class of medication for longer than 2 years, 14% had taken it for more than 10 years.

“In general, there was no significant difference between males and females in length of use,” report the researchers.

Other findings included that:

  • 10.8% of all Americans older than 12 years take antidepressants;
  • 15.4% of women older than 12 years take antidepressants vs 6.0% of men;
  • those numbers increase to 22.8% vs 8.5%, respectively, for those aged 40 to 59 years;
  • for all ages with severe depressive symptoms, 39.9% of women and 21.0% of men take antidepressants; and
  • whites are more likely to take antidepressants (13.6%) than are blacks (3.9%) or Mexican-Americans (2.7%).

No variation in use was found between different income groups.

“According to the American Psychiatric Association guidelines, medications are the preferred treatment for moderate to severe depressive symptomatology,” write the investigators.

“The public health importance of increasing treatment rates for depression is reflected in Healthy People 2020, which includes national objectives to increase treatment for depression in adults and treatment for mental health problems in children,” they add.

2005-2008 NCHS Data Brief. Published online October 19, 2011

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