If you do a search of the questions we receive on MyDepressionConnection you will find that the number one inquiry is about the topic of antidepressant medications. It is no wonder that this is such a popular topic as it is the most utilized treatment for depression. In fact, more Americans are using prescription drugs to treat their depression than talk therapy. A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, reported that in 2005 approximately 10% of Americans or 27 million people were taking antidepressants. This rate was double the amount from 1996. Yet the percentage of antidepressant users who also received psychotherapy plummeted from 31.5% to less than 20%. In addition, a significant majority of patients (80%) are being prescribed antidepressants from doctors other than psychiatrists. The growing popularity of using prescription medication to treat depression leaves many questions. How did this trend happen? How are doctors and patients making this decision to use medication as the primary treatment for depression and in some cases the only treatment? In this post we are going to take a look at research to find our answers.
What is causing this dramatic increase in antidepressant usage?
One would hope that more people are being prescribed antidepressants because there are better diagnostic procedures to identify depression early on. Another optimistic view is that there is less stigma associated with having a mood disorder and patients are more willing to consider treatment. Yet these reasons probably play only a very small part in this growing trend. Here are some of the more plausible causes for the great increase in antidepressant use in the past decade:
• Pharmaceutical Advertising
This huge increase in the number of people taking antidepressants comes as no surprise when you understand how much time and money is invested in pharmaceutical advertising. In 1997 the US Food and Drug Administration released new guidelines which allowed for direct-to-consumer advertising. This is why you see all those antidepressant commercials on TV. Do these ads have any impact on patients and consumers? They sure do. According to a report published in The American Journal of Medicine a 2002 FDA survey found that 43% of respondents reacted to a drug advertisement by looking for more information about that drug. We are now, more than ever before, making specific medication requests from our doctors. And much of this is based upon advertising.
Here are some sobering statistics to bear in mind. This same report in The American Journal of Medicine states that: “Between 1996 and 2003, there was a 400% increase in spending on direct-to-consumer advertising from 791 million to $3.2 billion. In addition, a 2008 a study found a huge discrepancy between pharma reports of marketing expenditures and what independent analysis has found. The study authors found that pharmaceutical companies spend almost twice as much on promotion as they do on research and development. You can read the details of this study, “The Cost of Pushing Pills: A New Estimate of Pharmaceutical Promotion Expenditures in the United States" in the January 3, 2008 issue of PLoS Medicine, an online journal published by the Public Library of Science.