Major depression, the leading cause of disability in the United States, affects more than 9 million adults in a given year.Despite advances in treatment options and educational efforts, depression has been described as underdiagnosed and poorly treated in the US. In fact, a recent study stressed that as many as 8 million Americans with serious mental illness fail to receive adequate treatment.
Americans have no qualms about seeking treatment for depression. It's just that they're turning more to medication than to psychotherapy. A new study shows Americans are reaching for antidepressants about twice as often as they did a decade ago.
The study analyzed data from national surveys conducted in 1987 and 1997 to determine the trends Americans are following in depression treatment. According to the researchers, overall outpatient treatment for depression increased threefold in the 10-year period. However, symptom management has gone through a major transformation in the US, with antidepressant medications taking the lead role in treatment options while talk therapy or psychotherapy is losing ground.
Olfson, associate professor at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in New York, suggests that educational efforts on the part of the federal government, as well as by health organizations, have helped raise awareness of the illness and thus encouraged many more individuals to seek treatment who may have felt stigmatized before.
Another major force in producing the treatment trends was the debut in the late '80s of the antidepressant drugs called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, such as Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil. About 30 percent of patients on these medications still have significant and problematic side effects, such as sexual dysfunction, insomnia and gastrointestinal difficulties including nausea and vomiting.