MONDAY, Dec. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Even as fewer Americans have
sought psychotherapy for their depression, antidepressant
prescription rates have continued to climb in recent years, a new
"This is an encouraging trend as it suggests that fewer depressed Americans are going without treatment," said study author Dr. Mark Olfson, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University/New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York City. "At the same time, however, the decline in psychotherapy raises the possibility that many depressed patients are not receiving optimal care."
"While progress is being made in increasing the availability of depression care, a mismatch is opening up between clinical evidence and practice," Olfson cautioned. "For many depressed adults and youth, a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressants is the most effective approach. Yet, only about one-third of treated patients receive both treatments, and the proportion receiving both treatments is declining over time. Efforts should be made to increase the availability of psychotherapy for depression."
Olfson and his colleagues report the findings in the December
issue of the
Archives of General Psychiatry.
The authors noted that previous research indicated that
depression treatment rose significantly between 1987 and 1997, from
less than 1 percent to nearly 2.5 percent. Antidepressant use among
depressed patients rose similarly, from just over 37 percent to
more than 74 percent. At the same time, however, the percentage of
patients undergoing psychotherapy dropped, from about 71 percent to
Newer medication options (including the introduction of
serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs), streamlined
treatment guidelines, and improved screening tools accounted for
the bump in overall treatment.
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from two national
surveys on depression, one conducted in 1998 and one done in 2007.
In that time period, there was a small increase in outpatient
treatment rates (from 2.37 per 100 people to 2.88 per 100 people),
and only a nominal bump in antidepressant use.
However, the percentage of patients seeking psychotherapy for
depression plummeted, from nearly 54 percent to just above 43
The study authors theorized that a number of factors are driving
the trend, not all of which reflect patient preferences. For
example, they pointed out that the rise in the rate of prescription
drug use may have slowed somewhat as a result of safety concerns,
particularly with respect to their usage among younger
At the same time, Olfson and his team noted that today's health
insurance coverage often provides payment for cheaper medicinal
treatments, while placing strict limits on more expensive
"I don't see these trends as alarming," said Dr. Michael W. O'Hara, a professor of psychology at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City. "Especially given that it seems to me that there's a lot more visibility to depression and an increasing acceptance to it being treated in general. It's just that the proportion of people being treated with prescription drugs has been going up relative to psychotherapy."
"Now my experience is that many patients say they prefer to just talk to somebody," O'Hara noted. "But certainly it's true that there are many barriers to that, such as the fact that getting psychotherapy requires some effort, you have to go someplace, it may cost you more out-of-pocket, and there may be more stigma involved than just taking drugs."
"It's also the case that one of the things we're seeing as well is that antidepressant medication is now very heavily marketed directly to the consumer," he added. "I would argue that there has been a dramatic increase in TV, radio, print ads advocating that patients take these medications. Now think about the last time you saw an ad for cognitive behavioral therapy for depression. You probably never have. So where are the shoppers going to go? They'll go to the place that is advertising. I'm not saying that's good or bad or anything. But it's certainly a factor."
In a second study published in the same journal, a Canadian team
from Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto found that
mindfulness-based cognitive therapy appears to be as effective as
antidepressants at helping successfully treated depression patients
The findings stem from work with 160 depression patients between
the ages of 18 and 65, some of whom were offered counseling in
place of antidepressants to help them learn to track and influence
their own thinking patterns during moments of sadness.
For more on the treatment of depression, visit the
U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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