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Antidepressant medication use in decline

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15th May 2012
Lynnette Hoffman   all articles by this author

ANTIDEPRESSANTS and anti-anxiety medication use has progressively decreased in Australia, even as rates of psychological distress remained constant, a study suggests.

Researchers reviewed Australian Bureau of Statistics and Australian National Health Survey data of more than 48,000 adults aged over 25 between 2001 and 2008.

Overall, they found prevalence of psychological distress was relatively stable, with the notable exception of people with comorbidities.

Psychological distress inc­reased from 5.9% to 7% in people with diabetes, and from 4.6% to 5% in people with cardiovascular disease. But reported use of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication progressively declined in those groups too.

Deakin University professor of psychiatry Michael Berk said that may be due to the investment in Better Access.

“One of the big changes might have been that with the Better Access system there would have been a shift from antidepressants as a primary treatment strategy to psychological treatments as primary,” he said.

“More widespread access to psychological therapies has to be welcomed. In many ways it really does put Australia at the forefront of mental health reform.

“There are a couple of studies that have looked at the prevalence of depression in the UK and US, and prevalence rates in those studies seem to be rising, so it’s interesting that in Australia prevalence rates are flat,” he added.

The study’s authors said a shift to more psychological treatments was just one of a number of plausible reasons for the changes.

Access to mental health services may not have corresponded proportionately to rising demand among people with comorbidities. One study showed that only 21% of people with CVD who had a 12-month affective and anxiety disorder used mental health services, for example.

As well, they said there may still be some stigma against seeking help, and questions over safety and efficacy of the drugs could be influencing prescribing habits.

Aust NZ J Psych 2012; 46:445-456

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