The use of antidepressant medication, such as Prozac, has been rising tremendously, a recent study found. The rate of increase was greatest in First World countries like Iceland, Canada, Australia and Spain, where it has been discovered that nearly one person in every 10 has been prescribed one of these medications. What researchers found troubling, though, was that the rate of diagnosed cases of moderate to severe depression has not increased to the same degree, showing that there is at least some level of inappropriate use of these medications.
Dr Mark van Ommeren, who is employed by the the World Health Organisation and works in the department of mental health and substance abuse, believes that the main cause lies not with the consumers, but with the doctors. He stated that the medications have a large degree of success with severe depression and should be used, but that too many people are turning to them as the first option for mild cases. Instead, Ommeren believes that other treatments, such as counseling, should be utilized first. The medications should only be given out when other tactics have been exhausted and more drastic measures are called for.
Over an 11-year span that was analyzed, the changes could be seen mirroring one another in many rich countries, indicating that this is not an isolated issue. For every 1,000 people in Australia in 2000, the prescription rate was a mere 45.4, but it nearly doubled to 88.9 by 2011. Canada first submitted its figures in 2007, when the rate was 75, but it had risen to 85.9 by 2011. Denmark continued the trend, moving from 34.8 to 85.2 between the same years. The statistics for the UK have almost doubled as well, though they still sit at 70.7, markedly lower than the countries on the top of the list.
While the trend has been most notable in the last decade, a look at the overall statistics in Iceland shows that this trend has really been building for some time. In the first year that the statistics were recorded, only 14.9 doses per day were given out for each 1,000 individuals. By 2000, that number had soared to 70.9. In 2011, it topped out at 105.8. This is the highest prescribing rate in the world.
Contributing factors have been many, and some researchers have hypothesized that the recent financial issues in countries like Spain and the United States could have brought about the rapid rise in usage. However, other scientists contend that many of these cases could still constitute misuse since they are linked to immediate causes, rather than to chemical imbalances in the brain. These are the types of cases that they believe should be worked out with counseling before the medications are prescribed.
Harvey Whiteford, a professor at the University of Queensland, Australia, acknowledged that depression rates were on the rise, but also said that mild depression was not nearly as likely to even respond to medications. He stated that severe, clinical depression showed the most responsiveness, but that other tactics were more useful for lesser cases. This could indicate that many of the people taking medication today, as part of this changing dynamic, are not even getting the assistance that they truly need. It brings into question the placebo effect for those who may feel better in knowing that they are taking medications that do not actually impact their brain’s chemical components, assuming that the pills are doing more than they are capable of.
Whiteford went so far as to emphatically state that: “The prescribing rates are going up and some of this prescribing would be for types of depression better treated non-pharmacologically.”
An interesting study that sheds light on overprescribing in the United States showed that 9.1 percent of all people in America suffered from depression in 2011. During the same timeframe, 11 percent of the population was given prescriptions for antidepressants. This does not even take into account the times when medication was prescribed for someone with mild depression. If those results were subtracted from the whole, the gap would be even wider and could not be explained entirely away by prescriptions given out for things like anxiety disorders or menopausal symptoms, which are often cited.
With these high usage rates, the risk of side effects comes into the picture, especially for those who should not be on the medications in the first place. Lawsuits have been brought about for suicides that were linked to the medications. Even in less clear cases, Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, who is a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, stated that there are possible long-term side effects that have not yet been observed.
With usage levels 400 percent higher than they were in 1988 and still rising, these side effects could become all too clear in time.