The Number Of Americans On Antidepressants Has Skyrocketed

This data is eye-opening.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

According to just published data, 12.7 percent of Americans age 12 or older reported taking an antidepressant within the last month.

This is the latest available research from the National Center for Health Statistics, and marks the period from 2011 to 2014.

As Alexandra Sifferlin notes at Time, that’s a whopping 64 percent surge from 1999 to 2002, when 7.7 percent of respondents reported taking antidepressants. (The report doesn’t speculate as to why there’s been such an increase.)

The demographic differences were stark: 8.6 percent of males reported taking antidepressants compared to 16.5 percent of females. Just 3.4 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 19 reported taking them, while a striking 19.1 percent of people 60 and over reported doing the same. White people were five times more likely to have taken antidepressant medication than Asian people, and three times more likely than Hispanic or black people.

For many, antidepressants have been a long-term course of medication: 68 percent of people in the most recent survey said they’d been taking them for two or more years, and 25 percent had been taking them for more than a decade.

This adds to other staggering numbers regarding the noonday demon: The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 6.7 percent of Americans had a major depressive episode in 2015 and that depression takes more years off of American lives than any other mental health disorder. Worldwide, depression is projected to take the second-most years off of human lives by 2030, behind only HIV/AIDS. It’s not only common in the Europe and the Americas, but in Africa and Asia as well.

Though how universally suitable antidepressants are remains unsettled, it’s estimated that the global depression drug market will be worth $16 billion by 2020. It’s important to note, as Northeastern University neuroscientist and How Emotions Are Made author Lisa Feldman Barrett would argue, that depression is a “population” of conditions: not all cases are the same, and one size treatment does not fit all.

There is also lots of hope for drug-free treatment: mindfulness-based cognitive therapy has been found to reduce relapses in people who have recovered from depression as effectively as medication.

If you think you might be suffering from depression, consider finding a therapist you can work with, and you may also want to read up on rumination—its primary cognitive precursor. A recent groundbreaking review of 207 studies found that when people find the right therapeutic match, a reduction in neuroticism (a personality trait strongly linked to depression) that would naturally occur over decades of adult life can happen in just three months. With the right help, people can heal. 

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