According to the American Psychological Association, the percentage of those using antidepressants increased
from 7.7% in 1999 to 64% in 2014. Such a dramatic increase may stem from the easy accessibility of the drugs, according to a study in 2011 from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. This study, which suggests that it is common practice for patients to visit their primary-care physician rather than a mental health professional, and thus leave with a prescription for psychotropic drugs, opens another topic of discussion: malpractice.
Why are doctors with such limited training in mental health care so willing to prescribe the drug?
Pharmaceutical ties are one explanation. According to Dr. Daniel Carlat, the associate clinical professor at Tufts University, it is easier for medical physicians to obtain health insurance reimbursements for drug treatment rather than therapy. Those physicians who do so can make “two, three, four times as much money being a prescriber than a therapist,” says Carlat.
Besides the monetary incentive, medical physicians, along with the public, are also influenced by the effective marketing of these psychotropic drugs. The advertisements for these drugs, which are employed to “help educate patients about treatment options” according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, have an extremely strong appeal to patients. In fact, a study found in the Canadian Medical Journal in 2003 showed that “American patients were more than twice as likely to request advertised drugs than patients in Canada, where most direct-to-consumer advertising is prohibited,” and those patients who ended up requesting the drugs that were being advertised were “17 times more likely to receive one or more new prescriptions than patients who did not request any drugs,” says the The American Psychological Association.
These statistics show that the overprescription of antidepressants is not the result of a single factor, but rather a chain reaction. The drug companies advertise the numerous types of antidepressants, the patients who are influenced by the advertisements request the drugs from their local primary physicians, and the physicians willingly prescribe the drugs on a recurring basis due to the pay increase in salary.
Unfortunately, unless the process of prescribing antidepressants obtains more regulations, there is no exact answer on how to slow down the process. Until such concrete changes occur, what is left but to sit back and watch the percentage of antidepressant prescriptions continue to rise.