University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine
Winter 2003

Is Depression on the Rise?

Increasing use of antidepressants in Canada

The use of antidepressants in Canada has soared over the past two decades. A recent U of T study found a 353 per cent increase in antidepressant prescriptions (from 3.2 million to 14.5 million) between 1981 and 2000. The population increased one per cent annually during this time. “If you see such a high increase in a particular group of drugs, you have to ask an important question: are more people sick or are more people diagnosed?” says Prof. Gideon Koren of pharmacology, pharmacy and pediatrics. Koren worked on the study with pharmacy professor Thomas Einarson and pharmacology graduate student and lead author Michiel Hemels. It’s fair to say that more people are being diagnosed because there’s greater awareness and less embarrassment about suffering from depression, says Koren. Hemels adds that antidepressants are now prescribed for a range of conditions such as bulimia or agitation in dementia patients, and that newer antidepressive agents have less problematic side effects, allowing more people to use them. “But a question remains: is there more depression?” says Koren. “While there are many possible causes – the collapse of the family as a source of strength, stress and the need to work more hours – I don’t think we can point to one factor as the only or most important one.” The study, published in The Annals of Pharmacotherapy, also found that total expenditures on antidepressants jumped from $31.4 million to $543.4 million, while cost per prescription climbed from $9.85 to $37.44 over the study period.

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