Over the past few years, anti-depressants have become blockbuster drugs and have skyrocketed to become the second most-prescribed drug, after cholesterol-lowering drugs. And more primary care doctors, or other doctors not trained in psychiatry, are prescribing these powerful and potentially dangerous drugs.
Nearly three-quarters of all prescriptions for anti-depressants are written without a specific diagnosis. This has medical experts worried that anti-depressants are being prescribed too often to patients who may not need them.
According to IMS Health, an estimated total of 254 million prescriptions were written for anti-depressants last year alone, up from 231 million in 2006. Each year, Americans spend $10 billion on anti-depressants. Additionally, seven percent of all visits to a primary care doctor end up with a prescription being written for anti-depressants.
Medical experts worry that this alarming new trend may be due to the direct to consumer advertising that so many pharmaceutical companies use to sell their drugs. Advertisements that ask people whether they are sad or are having trouble getting out of bed in the morning are not just meant to get those who are depressed to ask their doctors for these powerful drugs, but are meant to make the general population question whether they are depressed and whether anti-depressants could make their lives better.
Studies show that many people on anti-depressants take them for minor complaints like nervousness, sleep problems, everyday stress, and an inability to quit smoking. According to Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, the lead author of the most recent anti-depressant study published in Health Affairs and a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, “[a]lthough these drugs do not have many acute side effects, there may be more long-term adverse effects,” including withdrawal, weight gain, and diabetes.
Dr. William Narrow of the American Psychiatric Association says that most people with mild depression may do better with psychotherapy than with anti-depressants. Dr. Mojtabai agrees, saying that there is scant evidence that anti-depressants offer relief from vague complaints like stress, relationship problems, or low self-esteem.
If your doctor is recommending you go on an anti-depressant, ask yourself “Do I fit the criteria” and “Will the medication be more effective than placebo?” before trying to find a "cure" in a pill.
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