There was literally a time when patients suffering from depression used to talk about their problems. But times have changed and now talk therapy is becoming a rarer form of treatment in favor of psychotropic drugs.
A pair of studies, which ran from 1998 to 2007, tracked the use of antidepressants versus psychotherapy to treat depression among inpatients. Both were a followup of sorts to similar research done a decade earlier which saw a doubling in the amount of outpatients treated with antidepressants for this population. From 1987 to 1997, the percentage of patients prescribed antidepressant medication rose from 37.3 percent to 74.5 percent.
One of the more recent studies, put together by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, found the trend toward antidepressants continued. Researchers collected data from what is known as the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), which tracks depression diagnoses as well as means of treatment.
The University of Pennsylvania study concluded that antidepressant use among outpatients remained relatively the same (73.8 percent in 1998 versus 75.3 percent in 2007). The use of psychotherapy as a treatment option declined from 53.6 percent in 1998 to 43.1 percent in 2007.
Steven Corey Marcus, one of the study authors, noted that a similar study found the number of Americans using antidepressants jumped from five percent to 10 percent from 1996 to 2005.
“(That’s) much faster than the rate of depression treatment rose,” Marcus said in a 2010 blog on Discovery Magazine’s web site. “In other words, the decade must have seen antidepressants increasingly being used to treat stuff other than depression. SSRIs are popular in everything from anxiety and OCD to premature ejaculation.”
The University of Pennsylvania study also found the population of patients who took these drugs has changed as well. There were more people over 50 and more men being treated for depression. There also was a 120 percent increase in the number of African-Americans being treated for depression.
Marcus said, “(The) rates of increase from ’98 – ’07 were more of a ‘catching up’ by people who’ve historically had low levels of treatment, closing in on the historically highest group: middle-aged white women.”
The other study, done at Columbia University, also tracked data from 1998 to 2007 and also used data from MEPS. The authors looked at the percentages of outpatients who used antidepressants alone, a combination of antidepressants and psychotherapy, and the use of psychotherapy by itself.
The study saw a decrease in the use of psychotherapy among this population in this timeframe. The percentage of those using only this form of treatment dropped from 15.9 percent in 1998 to 10.5 percent in 2007. There also was a decrease in the percentage of patients treated with both psychotherapy and antidepressants, down from 40.0 percent in 1998 to 32.1 percent in 2007. The use of only antidepressants to treat outpatient depression, however, jumped from 44.1 percent in 1998 to 57.4 percent in 2007.
”One driving force of the increase in antidepressant use — other than excessive direct-to-consumer marketing — is the increased acceptance of antidepressant use among Americans,” said pharmacist Jennifer Gibson in the Sept. 3, 2011, edition of BrainBlogger. “Many people view antidepressants as little more than enhancers of well-being.”