Study: Number of Americans using antidepressants doubles

Antidepressant use has shot up dramatically over the last decade or so, including among children, while visits to psychiatrists have continued to fall, according to a new study.

As of 2005, the most recent year for which data was available, about 27 million people, or 10 percent of Americans, were taking antidepressants. That's twice the number who were taking such drugs in 1996, according to the study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, which looked at about 50,000 children and adults.

Of that number, half were using them, not for depression, but for back pain, nerve pain, fatigue, sleep problems or other issues, researchers reported.

Among those taking antidepressants, the percentage of patients getting psychotherapy fell from 31.5 percent to less than 20 percent. Eighty percent of patient were being treated by doctors other than psychiatrists, researchers found.

Study author Mark Olfson of Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute suggests that part of this growth in usage may be due to direct-to-consumer pharma advertising. Spending on DTC antidepressant ads grew from $32 million to $122 million during this period, he notes.

To learn more about the study:
- read this USA Today piece