Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Antidepressants on KUOW

This past Monday on KUOW's daily show "The Conversation," host Ross Reynolds interviewed Columbia University psychiatrist Dr. Mark Olson about a study that lasted from 1996 to 2005. During its span, Olson found that antidepressant use doubled among Americans. Currently, roughly 10% of us are on some form of psychiatric med. Some of his findings were surprising. Antidepressant use is lower among African-Americans and Latinos; Olson believes this is because medication is less culturally accepted than other treatments, such as talk therapy, in some minority populations.

The largest groups of antidepressant users? Young women, and women between 50 and 64. Women's rate of depression is double men's, and Olson noted that it can be tricky to diagnose it among older people, since aging brings certain challenges that may manifest themselves as forms of depression, even if the individual's all-around psychological condition isn't that of a depressed person. Perhaps the study's most troubling discovery was that doctors are more likely to prescribe medication if a patient mentions an advertisement he or she saw for a particular drug. (Actors were sent to doctors' offices to complain of depressive symptoms; only some of them mentioned having seen an ad, and they were given meds much more frequently.)

Also interesting: Olson said around 40% of antidepressant users quit after a month, which means they don't get the full benefit of the medication. (Mine took a month just to kick in at all; I imagine that some users who feel desperate for relief aren't willing to wait that long.) A few callers talked about their experiences with meds. One woman complained that Paxil proved extremely addictive, even though it had originally been advertised as anything but. She mentioned that Paxil is illegal in the UK and parts of Europe. Another caller said she was on Paxil for eight or nine months, and it saved her life. The change was "like night and day," she said. Yet she, too, had a tough time getting off the drug.

Olson said that patients who are aware of the risks of taking an antidepressant tend to stay on them longer; he advised an extensive conversation with a doctor about the pluses and minuses. He said the study made him think more about how patients are chosen; people who are less depressed may actually benefit less from meds than those who are severely afflicted. The interview wasn't groundbreaking, nor were the callers' comments, but it's interesting to hear media coverage of the issue now that I'm part of that 10%.

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