The rate of antidepressant use in the United States increased nearly 400 percent over the last two decades, according to a report released Oct. 19.
The report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics found that 11 percent of Americans over the age of 12 takes an antidepressant, with about 14 percent taking the medication for more than 10 years.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that antidepressants were the third most common prescription drug taken by Americans of all ages from 2005 to 2008 and the most frequently used medication by people between the ages of 18 and 44.
The study also found that women are two and a half times more likely to take antidepressant medication as males, while 23 percent of women ages 40 to 59 take antidepressants, more than in any other age or sex group.
Among both males and females, the study found that people aged 40 and older are more likely to take antidepressants than younger people.
The study also found that among those taking antidepressants, approximately 14 percent take more than one. While less than one-half of those patients had seen a mental health professional in the past year, the researchers did find that the likelihood of having seen a mental health professional increased as the number of antidepressants taken increased.
Other findings show that about 14 percent of non-Hispanic white persons take antidepressant medications, compared with 4 percent of non-Hispanic black and 3 percent of Mexican-American persons.
Researchers concluded that there is no difference by income in the prevalence of antidepressant use.
Researchers also note that while the majority of antidepressants are taken to treat depression, antidepressants also can be taken to treat anxiety disorders. In that vein, the study found that about 8 percent of people ages 12 and over with no current symptoms of depression took antidepressant medication. Researchers postulate that those in this group may be taking the medication for reasons other than depression or the medication is working and the patients do not currently have symptoms of depression.
Slightly over one-third of Americans ages 12 and over with current severe depressive symptoms were taking antidepressants, the study continues. According to American Psychiatric Association guidelines, medications are the preferred treatment for moderate to severe depression.
The study’s researchers point out that the public health importance of increasing treatment rates for depression is reflected in Healthy People 2020, an initiative of the Department of Health and Human Services launched last December. The 10-year agenda for improving the nation’s health tracks 1,200 objectives to meet these goals, including objectives to increase treatment for depression in adults and treatment for mental health problems in children.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey is a continuous survey conducted to assess the health and nutrition of Americans. Survey participants complete a household interview and visit a mobile examination center (MEC) for a physical examination and private interview.
The annual interview and examination sample includes approximately 5,000 people of all ages. Researchers note that in 2005-2006, non-Hispanic black persons, Mexican-American persons, adults ages 60 and over, and low-income persons were oversampled to improve the statistical reliability of the estimates for these groups. In 2007-2008, the same groups were oversampled with one exception: Rather than oversampling only the Mexican-American population, all Hispanic persons were oversampled.