Friday, July 25, 2008

Are Today’s Americans Sadder?

Pathological sadness better known as “depression” might be affecting more people in the USA than before as a much larger number of central nervous system drugs called “antidepressants,” are being prescribed. A recent report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) highlighted the fact.

Most of us know what it means to feel sad, but it’s the sadness requiring medical attention that causes a significant impairment in a person’s daily life. Some common signs of depression entail feeling worthless, thinking of death or suicide, loss of pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable. In fact statistics reveal that in 2004 about 17.1 million adults experienced major depression within a year.

Depression affects different age groups differently. See below for percentage of people by age groups, who experienced major depression in 2004.

Increasing Use of Antidepressants

However startling it might be, the fact is that between 2002 and 2005, antidepressant prescriptions rose from 154 million to 170 million (16 million more!).

See the graph below:

All of these prescriptions were written by medical doctors for patients consulting them in outpatient settings. In 2005 alone 53 million prescriptions were handed out. Further, in many cases prescriptions were written by doctors other than psychiatrists (doctors who treat mental illness), who only wrote about 29% of them.

The other doctors included General practitioners (GPs) who are primary care providers but are also specialty trained, accounted for 23 percent prescriptions.

The Family practitioners prescribed 21 percent of the drugs. Family practitioners are physicians who’ve undergone a residency in family health care.

The doctors who prescribed the least number of antidepressants were the Internal medicine specialists – who’re doctors with a residency in treating diseases that are often difficult to diagnose by non-surgical means. The prescriptions from these doctors made up for 10 percent of the total.

The chart below summarizes the percent share of specialty doctors:

Given the hike in the prescription of pharmaceutical drugs called "antidepressants," it seems quite likely that an increasing portion of the US population has experienced the blues in the recent past.

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