Why are antidepressants the most prescribed drug in the U.S.?

Do doctors overprescribe antidepressant medications?

You can't really address the reasons for antidepressant popularity without addressing the business of antidepressants. In 2004, brand-name antidepressant companies made more than $14 billion [source: ResearchandMarkets]. These sales mean big business, and direct-to-consumer advertising (such as television commercials) has helped fuel it. Studies indicate that this kind of advertising has contributed to the growth in prescriptions [source: Kravitz]. When patients see commercials for antidepressants, such as Zoloft, and think that it can help them, they go to their doctors and request it. Doctors are more likely to prescribe an antidepressant when a patient specifically asks for it.

Some believe doctors are usually too anxious to diagnose someone with depression. The symptoms for depression from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Taking less pleasure in life
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleeping pattern
  • Restless habits
  • Lack of energy
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Suicidal thoughts

[Source: Wise]

But even with these parameters, distinguishing severe depression from natural periods of feeling "down" can be a murky call. Professor Gordon Parker thinks doctors interpret the common blues as clinical depression all too often [source: BBC News]. In a long-term study he conducted, he found that a great majority of people could be diagnosed as depressed on the criteria that doctors use. He took this to mean the criteria for depression is too loose.

It appears the combination of consumer advertising and doctors' difficulty in definitively diagnosing clinical depression could have contributed to the rise in antidepressant use. Still, others support the increase in antidepressant use, arguing that it is better to diagnose depression too often than too little.

If you are hesitant to take antidepressants or don't think your condition is severe enough to warrant therapy, you have options. Regular exercise, for instance, can dramatically relieve depression. In addition, maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet and reducing the intake of stimulants, such as cigarettes and caffeine, can help as well. For more information about antidepressants and other related subjects, go to the next page.

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