Our use of antidepressant medication has never been higher, but does this mean we are becoming more depressed, more aware, or are they simply being prescribed more and for reasons other than depression?
Our relationship with antidepressants is certainly complex. Each year, millions of prescriptions are written and estimates suggest that roughly one in 10 of us are taking antidepressants at any one time. The National Center for Health Statistics say that antidepressant use has increased 400 percent over the past two decades and that 23 percent of antidepressant users are women in their forties and fifties.
Doctors also have something of a problem in diagnosing depression. There are questionnaires available to aid in the assessment of depression, but if a patient feels bad enough to seek a consultation and self-reports a low mood, this is about as valid as it gets. But we also have to remember that antidepressants can be prescribed for a number of other issues including anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders and chronic pain.
The stigma associated with mental health issues like depression may also be lessening. Combine this with the wealth of information readily available and it’s easy to see how people are becoming more enlightened as to the signs and symptoms of depression and perhaps more likely to report these to their doctor.
Depression is now mainstream and where there’s a problem there are bound to be people offering solutions. The pharmaceutical companies are givers and takers in this regard. They provide the offer of relief, they promote their brands and they make eye-wateringly large profits as a result. The effect of brand marketing is also very effective. These days doctors are quite used to patients requesting antidepressants by name and even sometimes by their dosage. Indeed a trend may be developing where some people seek out antidepressants as a preventative rather than as a curative measure.
People live tough and stressful lives and it does appear that depression as a disease is set to top the league tables before too long. Is the relative ease of getting hold of antidepressants a good or a bad thing? Well, this is partly down to individual choice and perceived benefits over costs. Some would argue that the side effects of taking antidepressants far outweigh the costs of not taking them. Others will point out that there are other equally viable alternatives, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, diet and exercise. Whatever your perspective there’s no denying that antidepressants look like they are here to stay for some time yet.