The developed world has seen an immense increase in the use of antidepressant drugs as prescriptions for nonessential, quality-of-life medications continue to fly out of physicians’ hands.
That summarizes one finding in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) “Health at a Glance” report for 2013. OECD, an international economic group headquartered in Paris, is composed of members representing 34 nations that collectively seek to promote the spread of democracy and “policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.” It was born from the post-World War II European economic bloc tasked with implementing the Marshall Plan.
The OECD’s report reveals that physicians in many developed countries now prescribe medication for one out of every 10 people, while in the United States, more than one in 10 people obtain some form of medication to treat symptoms of depression. Meanwhile, the report finds that rates of depression worldwide haven’t gone up; rather, doctors just seem to be writing more prescriptions for antidepressants than ever before.
OECD says the report raises “concerns about [the] appropriateness” of overprescribing these types of medications, which entered the market as treatments for the most severe cases of depression, as a stopgap alternative to non-medical therapies such as counseling and cognitive behavior therapy.
From the report:
[R]ising consumption levels can also be explained by the extension of the set of indications of some antidepressants to milder forms of depression, generalized anxiety disorders or social phobia. These extensions have raised concerns about appropriateness. Changes in the social acceptability and willingness to seek treatment during episodes of depression may also contribute to increased consumption.
Doctors and academics critical of the increasing ubiquity of quality-of-life drugs aren’t surprised by the report’s findings.
“Antidepressants are widely oversubscribed to get rid of unhappiness,” Professor Tim Cantopher, a consultant psychiatrist in Britain, told South African newspaper Mail & Guardian. “They were not designed for that. Unhappiness is part of the human condition. But real clinical depression does respond to antidepressants.”