RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Antidepressant use has more than doubled since 1996, with more than 30 million Americans, or 9 percent of the population, taking at least one. That makes pharmaceutical treatments for depression the third most commonly prescribed class of drugs in the U.S. Yet, according to a new study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, almost 73 percent of those prescriptions are given to people with no diagnosis of depression or other psychiatric disorder.
The study, published in the most recent issue of the journal Health Affairs, used survey data collected from 1996 to 2007. Over that time period, the data showed that antidepressant prescriptions issued to people with no psychiatric diagnosis increased from 60 percent in 1996 to 73 percent in 2007. And of those prescriptions, 80 percent were written by doctors who were not practicing as psychiatrists. The authors write that their results "do not clearly indicate a rise in inappropriate antidepressant use" but that they highlight a need for a better understanding of what's driving the skyrocketing prescription rates, particularly among non-psychiatric physicians.
As more people turn to pills to treat their depression, and as more doctors are willing to hand them out, there's growing evidence that the drugs are no longer working. A review of 35 clinical trials published in 2008 the Public Library of Science: Medicine revealed that the most popular treatments for depression—paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), venlafaxine (Effexor), and nefazodone (Serzone, Nefadar)—aren't much more effective than sugar pills. Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found these same drugs benefited only severely depressed people. There's also evidence that antidepressant use can increase a woman's risk of sudden cardiac death and, taken during pregnancy, the drugs can increase an infant's risk of congenital heart defects and possibly even autism.
Also, people often resort to these medications before trying proven treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotherapy. "Psychotherapy has been shown to relieve depression at least as quickly and effectively as antidepressant medication, with one important difference—psychotherapy does a much better job than drugs at preventing a recurrence of depression," Jeffrey Rossman, PhD, clinical psychologist and director of life management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, MA, told Rodale.com back in 2009.
For healthy, non-pharmaceutical treatments for depression, see: