Are We Over-Medicating for Mental Health Problems?

In a country where we can buy over-the-counter pain relievers which portend to address highly specialized discomforts such as headache, joint ache, backache, migraine and mild arthritis could we be over-medicating for mental discomforts? Some are wondering if we have become a population that is ready to pop a pill the moment we feel even a little bit off of our game.

Recent studies reveal that nearly one-half of the U.S. population is taking at least a single prescription medication and greater than 20 percent of us are currently receiving medication for mental health issues. Why that is remains uncertain.

Dramatic Increases in Prescription Medication Use

A 10-year study conducted by Medco Health Solutions examined mental health prescription medication use among 2.5 million insured Americans from 2001-2010. The study looked at uses of anti-ADHD medications, anti-depressants and anti-psychotics along with medications used for anti-anxiety treatment. The report shows a marked increase among all population categories in the use of these medications during the 10-year span.

Everyone, including health care professionals, is left wondering if Americans are developing more mental health problems or are simply more likely to look for treatment. Are health care professionals more skilled at diagnosing mental health problems or do they find it simpler to write a prescription than to pursue more creative treatments for non-severe mental health concerns? Or, is America responding to increased pharmaceutical advertising?

Women More Likely to Access Mental Health Treatment

The research found that women are more likely than men to access all forms of healthcare including mental health treatment. Women are the greatest consumers of anti-depressant medication with over 20 percent of the female population currently taking an anti-depressant drug. Women’s use of anti-depressants has risen by 40 percent in the past decade with women aged 45-65 the most likely to be using the medications.

Women are also significant consumers of anti-anxiety medications, which they receive at twice the rate of men. Nevertheless, the use of anti-anxiety drugs by older women has decreased by a significant 47 percent. Some have suggested that women are reflecting the emotional impact of a decade which was initiated by the terror of 9/11 and is ending on a note of financial uncertainty.

Prescription Medications for Children

The report shows a mixed result when it comes to mental health medications prescribed to children. On a positive note, the use of medications in treating ADHD has dropped since 2005. According to the study, when the disorder is treated with prescriptions, boys are significantly more apt than girls to receive medications. That changes when the sexes reach adulthood however, when women are two and a half times more likely to receive ADHD medications.

Another decrease in childhood prescriptions was noted in the anti-depressant category. This is likely in response to the 2004 FDA alert concerning the risks of suicidal ideation that can be associated with anti-depressant use in children. In spite of those decreases, the number of kids who are being prescribed anti-psychotic medications has doubled since 2001.

The statistics demonstrate that Americans as a whole are receiving more mental health medications than we were 10 years ago. What is harder to determine is the reason for that surge and whether or not it is necessary. Some doctors believe that rather than medicate our way out of discomfort, cases of minor depression can actually be useful in helping people to face life issues and take notice of thought patterns which may need to be altered. Could it be that there are alternative ways of addressing other non-severe mental health issues as well?

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