Pill popping for pleasure pushes past previous records. Or so says the CDC in their report Antidepressant Use in Persons Aged 12 and Over: United States, 2005â€“2008. “From 1988â€“1994 through 2005â€“2008, the rate of antidepressant use in the United States among all ages increased nearly 400%.”
In 2005â€“2008, 11% of Americans aged 12 and over took antidepressant medication…About 8% of persons aged 12 and over with no current depressive symptoms took antidepressant medication.
Pause and re-read that last sentence: many who do not suffer from depression are nonetheless taking medicine for depression. Why?
How about the plethora of commercials in which people just-short-of-beautiful are seen cavorting in fields of green (in slow motion, always) while a voice intones, “You deserve more out of life. Don’t take CheerMeUp if you suffer from toe fungus. Call your doctor if you are feeling suicidal, as several people who took CheerMeUp hanged themselves. Ask your doctor is CheerMeUp is right for you!”
Only 6% of men 12 and over were swallowing happy pills, but 15.4% of women were. This shocking disparity—which, according to the ethos of the age we must move mountains to correct, such that men attain the same rate of antidepressant use as women; perhaps a government program where men are given free pills—held regardless of the diagnosed level of depression. The CDC has a picture of this (Fig. 3), but it is here redone to emphasize the disparity.
This glaring one-sidedness holds for all age levels. Here’s another re-plotting of the CDC figures:
It is also that case that women are more likely than men to be prescribed antidepressants in the absence of a diagnosis by a “mental health professional.” In other words, the men who are on happy pills were more likely to have seen a shrink than women, who are getting their pills from other sources (such as their GP).
Whites eat three-and-a-half times as many antidepressants as blacks: 13.6% to 2.9%. Mexican Americans eat the least at 2.7%. (The CDC only presented these three groups.) This means that white women top the list, outstretching all competition.
One in ten—9.8%!—white women over 12 take antidepressants. Only 2.8% Black and 1.9% of Mexican American women do. For white men, just 3.8% take pills, with Black men at 1% and Mexican American men at 0.8%.
What’s happening with all these white women? They take medication at three times the rate of their nearest competitor.
Income you say? After all, white women make more than Blacks and others and so they’re more able to afford all those pills. Maybe so, but antidepressant use was roughly the same across income levels. And white men make more than white women. The explanation must lie elsewhere.
The CDC does not present (here, anyway) statistics by year, so we can’t say whether the increase is smooth or abrupt.
In a USA Today summary of the CDC’s press release, they dug up this quote:
“These drugs can be very helpful for people who need them,” says Elaine Ducharme, a psychologist and public educator in Connecticut for the American Psychological Association. “People should expect to be depressed after a layoff. They should not be put on a drug, though, unless they have an acute problem.”
Being without work cannot be the cause of the increase or disparity, because Blacks and Mexican Americans have much higher unemployment rates than Whites, especially among the men.
It could be that clinical depression really is on the rise, but that wouldn’t explain why so many women are taking medication in the absence of expert advice. Or it could be that the depression rate was always as high but that people are now seeking treatment—and somehow white women are beating them to doctor’s office. Again, that doesn’t explain why women don’t go to the shrink.
Too, antidepressants are often written for non-depressive symptoms, such as eating disorders. But that still doesn’t explain the discrepancy between white and non-white women, nor the large differences between older women and men.
We have a few psychologists who read this blog. It would be interesting to hear their guesses about these statistics.