Depressed Americans Favor Medication

Prescription antidepressants are the top treatment choice among patients who seek professional help for anxiety and depression, a recent survey reports.

Seventy-eight percent of patients with anxiety and depression take prescription antidepressants, either alone or in combination with talk therapy, according to a reader survey released by Consumer Reports earlier this week.

Other key findings from the survey can help pharmacists guide patients through the trial-and-error process for treating these common mental illnesses, which affect somewhere between 11% and 16% of all Americans at some point in their lifetimes, according to the CDC. Here are a few additional highlights:

  • Consistent with national data, most prescriptions for antidepressants are written by primary care doctors. Less than half of the patients who responded received their prescriptions from a psychiatrist.
  • Patients reported similar levels of satisfaction from SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). 88% of patients taking SSRIs said they helped “a lot” or “somewhat,” compared with 85% of patients taking SNRIs.
  • Patients who received both medications and talk therapy for at least 7 sessions were most successful in overcoming their condition. Compared with medication-only treatment, talk therapy without medication was about as effective, but only when patients continued counseling for more than 6 sessions.
  • Substantially fewer patients reported sexual side effects from antidepressants than in previous surveys conducted by the magazine. In 2010, up to 36% reported sexual side effects, compared with up to 56% in a 2004.
  • Among the patients surveyed, all side effects from antidepressants occurred more often than indicated in clinical trials conducted by drug manufacturers.
  • Patients who took medication reported lower out-of-pocket costs than those who chose talk therapy alone. This is likely to change soon, however, due to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act—a new federal law that aims to strengthen insurance coverage for mental health treatment.

The findings reflect only the opinions of those who responded; however, as the report states, they do offer “a window onto mental-health treatment as it’s practiced in the real world, as opposed to the carefully controlled environment of clinical trials.” Of the total respondents, 1544 had experienced depression (30%), anxiety (18%), or a combination of the two (52%). More than half the respondents (55%) were male, and the average age among respondents was 58.

An overview of the report is available to non-subscribers here. For more on the pharmacist’s role in educating patients about mental illness, read the article “Many Americans Know Little About Mental Illness,” written by Pharmacy Times contributor Guido R. Zanni, PhD.

For other articles in this issue, see:

  • Drug Makers Push for Pay Delay in Part D Discounts
  • Many Stroke Patients Aren't Prescribed Statins
  • Pharmacists More Effective Than CPOE for Error Prevention