Questions for Laura Pratt, Psychiatric Epidemiologist and Author of “Antidepressant Use in Persons Aged 12 and Over: United States, 2011-2014”
Q: Are more people taking antidepressants now vs. in the past?
LP: Yes, in our data brief, figure 4, you can see how antidepressant use has increased over time from 1999-2002 to 2011-2014. Slightly less than 8% of the U.S. population took antidepressants in 1999-2002 while almost 13% took antidepressants in 2011-2014. This is an increase of about 65%. The rates of increase were similar for males and females, but twice as many females took antidepressants as males at all time points.
Q: Is there any particular age group in which antidepressant use is higher?
LP: Among all persons and among females, antidepressant use was highest in persons 60 years of age and older.
Q: Does this mean that rates of mental illness are on the rise?
LP: Our report does not look at rates of mental illness. But in general, prescription drug use is also related to healthcare access and utilization, and, in mental health particularly, many studies have shown high rates of under-treatment. The situation with a large percent of people with depression, for example, not receiving treatment has improved over time. Increases in healthcare utilization and treatment of depression would result in a higher rate of antidepressant use whether or not the rates of mental illness increased.
Q: What are the risks or dangers of antidepressant use?
LP: The first antidepressants that were available had many side effects and could cause overdose death. The vast majority of overdose deaths related to these drugs were intentional (suicides). The newer antidepressants in use today have fewer side effects and have a much lower risk of overdose. Antidepressants do not produce a “high” and are not drugs of abuse.
Q: Any other findings you feel are noteworthy?
LP: It was very noteworthy that non-Hispanic white persons ages 12 and older continue to have rates of antidepressant use that are between 3 and 5 x higher than persons in other race and Hispanic origin groups. I was also surprised to see that 25% of people who take an antidepressant have taken it for more than 10 years. In our first antidepressant data brief, the percent of people taking an antidepressant for more than 10 years was 13.6%. Interestingly, the percent of persons taking antidepressants who took them for more than 2 years was 61% in 2005-08 and increased to 68% in 2011-2014.