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One in five U.S. adults takes medication for a mental disorder

November 16, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Antidepressant use has risen dramatically in the last decade.
Antidepressant use has risen dramatically in the last decade. (Medco Health Solutions )

Medications to treat mental health disorders is soaring among U.S. adults, according to data released Wednesday by Medco Health Solutions, a pharmacy benefit manager.

Twenty percent of all adults said they took at least one medication to treat a mental disorder. Among women, 25% said they took such medication and 20% said they were using an antidepressant.

The survey analyzed prescription drug trends among 2.5 million insured Americans from 2001 to 2010.

Medco researchers also found that adults ages 20 to 44 had the greatest uptick in use of anti-anxiety medications, atypical antipsychotics and drugs to treat ADHD. The number of women on ADHD medications was 2.5 times higher in 2010 than in 2001.

The number of children under 10 taking antipsychotic medication, which is reserved for the most severe mental illnesses, doubled from 2001 to 2010.

There was a stark drop in use of antidepressants among those 19 and under, however. Usage has fallen since a 2004 warning from the Food and Drug Administration that the drugs could increase suicidal thoughts. Prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication among people 65 and older also fell over the last decade.

Reasons behind the growing popularity of medications for mental illness is debatable. Understanding the upswing "is the next critical goal," Dr. Martha Sanjatovic, a professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, said in a statement released by Medco.

Said Dr. David Muzino of the Medco Neuroscience Therapeutic Research Center: "[W]hat is not clear is if more people — especially women — are actually developing psychological disorders that require treatment, or if they are more willing to seek out help and clinicians are better at diagnosing these conditions than they once were."

But, he noted, it was a tough decade: the 9/11 attacks, two wars and a deep recession.

The report is entitled America's State of Mind

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