Rising antidepressant use may be something to be sad about

According to a new paper, antidepressant use in Australia has doubled in the past decade (Stephenson CP, Karanges E & McGregor IS 2012, “Trends in the utilisation of psychotropic medications in Australia from 2000 to 2011”, Australia & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, first published 9 November 2012, doi: 10.1177/0004867412466595).

In fact, over this time there’s been an increase of 58% in the prescription of all psychotropic drugs, even though Australia’s population has only increased by 13% in that time.

Psychotropic drugs are those that affect the brain, and as well as antidepressants they include sedatives, antipsychotics, mood stabilisers and medication for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Capsules of 20mg fluoxetine, also known as Prozac (click to embiggen)
Pills of the antidepressant fluoxetine, aka Prozac (Photo by Tom Varco, via Wikimedia Commons)
Most of these types have had large increases too. Antipsychotic use has also doubled between 2000 and 2011, ADHD drugs (including methylphenidate) have increased by 73%, and although some benzodiazapines like Valium have remained fairly stable, the newer alprazolam (Xanax) has gone up.

According to one of the authors, Professor Iain McGregor from the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology:

“These results are surprising, somewhat worrying, and raise the question of why so many of us need drugs to be able to cope with modern life.

“The heavy use of antidepressants may reflect their increasing use in conditions other than depression: everything from anxiety disorders to treating pain.

“These drugs have been relentlessly promoted by the pharmaceutical industry but meds are not the only answer, and anyone with emotional problems should consider diet, exercise, lifestyle changes and psychological therapy.”

You can read more about this study at the University of Sydney.

(This story aired on 29 November 2012 – you can listen to the podcast.)

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