Antidepressant Use Has Exploded Since 1988

Americans are swallowing antidepressants like Zoloft and Paxil at four times the rate they used to, according to the latest statistical report on the nation's health, released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between 2007 and 2010, more than 10% of Americans said they had taken an antidepressant within the last 30 days. More than twice as many women take the drugs as men, though rates have more than quadrupled for both:

Antidepressant Usage United States

CDC/NCHS, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey


The number of women on antidepressants has gone from 3.2% in the 1988 to 1994 survey to 14.8% in the most recent one. (For men, it's gone from 1.6% to 6.6% in the same time period, though that baseline number is considered unreliable, since the margin of error for men on the 1988-1994 survey was between 20% and 30%.)

These facts on antidepressants come from the special feature in this year's report on prescription drug usage, rates of which have increased in general for Americans over the past half century.

Why are so many people taking antidepressants?

The skyrocketing rate of "happy pill" consumption may not mean that people are more depressed than ever.

At any given time, 9.1% of adults fit the criteria for being depressed, the CDC estimates. And people also take antidepressants for other reasons, including panic disorders, anxiety, and menopausal symptoms.

The authors attribute the increased consumption of antidepressant drugs to a variety of factors. Not least is the introduction and popularization of Prozac and other SSRIs, which have much less severe side effects than older antidepressants. (Prozac was approved by the FDA on December 29, 1987.) Other potential causes for the increase include reduced stigma around seeking care for mental illness, usage of these drugs to treat other mental disorders, and marketing efforts by pharmaceutical companies.Advertisement

The question of overuse

Some recent research indicates that antidepressants may be overprescribed.

A survey last year, for example, found that two-thirds of a group of 5,000 that had been diagnosed with depression did not meet the conditions for a major depressive episode.

And some patients may be correctly diagnosed as depressed and opt for non-pharmaceutical treatment - cognitive behavioral therapy, for example.Advertisement

Still, the National Institute of Mental Health says that the drugs may be both over- and under-used: they cite research that says that only half of people with major depression receive care.