There was a recent article in USA Today which cites some interesting statistics about the way Americans treat their depression. I am sure that many of you will not be surprised by the results.
The USA Today article presents the findings of a recent study led by Mark Olfson of Columbia Univeristy and the New York State Psychiatric Institute:
- 10% of Americans (27 million people) were using antidepressants in 2005 compared with half that number in 1996.
- Half of those people studied were taking antidepressants for other conditions including back pain, nerve pain, fatigue, and sleep difficulties.
- Psychiatry has taken a hit in the recent decade. Around 32 % of antidepressant users used to seek treatment from a psychiatrist. This has decreased to less than 20%. It seems that 80% of patients are getting treatment from doctors other than psychiatrists.
- Monies used for antidepressant advertising has increased from $32 million to $122 million. That is quite a leap.
- The percentage of children aged 5-17 using antidepressants was 1.4% in 1995 and this increased to 2.6% in 2005. In another study researchers are saying that they see evidence of depression in children as young as three years of age.
So we have all these numbers and statistics. What can we make of it all?
I am immediately reminded of a poem written by a friend of mine, Dr. C.E. Chaffin, entitled "The Glass Giraffe." I had done an interview with Doctor Chaffin some months ago which you may read here. Doctor Chaffin has Bipolar Disorder and writes poetry as one way to cope with having this potentially debilitating mood disorder. These lines of his poem have always resonated with me:
"Finally the antidepressants kicked in
and I felt like myself. When I left
you gave me another card
since therapy was "unfinished"
and I might be back
on your couch or another's.
I gazed at your office figurines,
crystal leopards and pewter trolls,
porcelain ballerinas and kachina dolls,
and imagined the souls of all your patients
trapped inside them-those, who like me,
sought relief through words
when only medicines would do.
I could have been the glass giraffe."
Clearly some people who suffer from mood disorders are greatly helped by taking antidepressants. There can be a very strong biological component to depression and science has discovered new ways to focus treatment on this biological aspect of mood disorder.
Yet it is seldom that simple as taking a pill to "cure" depression. Talk to anyone who suffers from depression and you will find that there are more causes for depression than there are treatments. Stress, childhood traumas, relationship problems and loss are but a few of the reasons one might lapse into a depressive episode. There may also be behavioral reasons such as learned helplessness and patterned reactions to stressful events which can cause depression. Cognitive issues also may play a part in depression as the way we think about things can directly affect our mood.