Trends in Treating Depression

Though the number of people using antidepressant medication is increasing, the number of those using psychotherapy to help battle depression is going down.

In 1987, the federal government started a health campaign to teach the public, as well as the medical community, about the recognition and treatment of depression. That same year, more than 34,000 individuals participated in a survey where they answered questions regarding use of psychotropic medication, rate of treatment, number of outpatient treatment visits and use of psychotherapy. The same types of questions were asked in 1997 to a sample of more than 32,000 people.

When comparing data from the two surveys, researchers found outpatient treatment for depression has gone up from 0.73 per 100 people in 1987 to 2.33 per 100 people in 1997. Increases were seen in other areas as well. Authors of the study write, “The proportion of treated individuals who used antidepressant medications increased from 37.3 percent to 64.5 percent.” They also found, “An increasingly large proportion of patients were treated by physicians for their condition.” In 1987, less than 70 percent of patients were treated by their physicians for depression. In 1997, that number rose to 87.3 percent. However, the number of patients who used psychotherapy for depression declined. In 1987, more than 71 percent say they used psychotherapy while in 1997, only about 60 percent reported using it.

Researchers credit the steady rise in the availability of pharmacologic options for some of the increases seen in the treatment of depression. They write, “The new medications tend to have fewer adverse effects, require less complicated dosing regimens, and pose less danger when taken in overdose than the older tricyclic antidepressants.” They conclude, “For the promise of increased access to treatment to be fully realized, available treatments must be provided in a safe, timely, and effective manner.”

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