Antidepressant use on the rise despite no substantial increase in rates of depression

Among older adults over the age of 65, antidepressant use increased significantly over the past two decades, this was despite no substantial rise in prevalence of diagnosis for depressive disorders, according to a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

For the study, a team of researchers at the University of East Anglia assessed over 15,000 European older adults to establish any changes in the prevalence of depression and antidepressant use, based on the Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies initiated between 1991 and 1993, then from 2008 to 2011.

In participants, symptoms meeting the criteria for depression were assessed utilizing a standardized interview process. From this process, researchers were able to determine a slight increase in the estimated prevalence of depression among older adults, a nearly one percent increase over a span of 20 years, from 1991 to 2011.

When examining antidepressant use over the last 20 years, the findings indicated the rates increased by more than double.

“Between two comparable samples interviewed 20 years apart (1990-93 and 2008-11) we found little change in the prevalence of depression, but the proportion of participants taking antidepressants rose from 4 percent to almost 11 percent,” said Carol Brayne, the study’s lead researcher.

“This could be due to improved recognition and treatment of depression, overprescribing, or use of antidepressants for other conditions.”

“Our research has previously shown a dramatic age-for-age drop in dementia occurrence across generations,” said Brayne. “This new work reveals that depression has not shown the same reduction even in the presence of dramatically increased prescribing, itself not without concern given potential adverse effects we have also shown that are associated with polypharmacy.”