Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pills and America's pursuit of happiness

Antidepressant use has soared during the recession but reaching for the pill bottle goes back decades.

Of all the bitter pills Americans are swallowing nowadays, from joblessness to home foreclosures to runaway national debt, it might come as no surprise that a pill of another sort is flying off the shelves at a recession-defying pace – the antidepressant.

It's an easy jump to conclude that hard times are turning the country comfortably numb, as the Washington Post suggested in a weekend report on the sales of the drug Cymbalta, up 14 per cent since the summer of 2008 and now among America's most popular happy pills.

Drill deeper and you will find that the U.S., though far and away a world leader with its $10-billion-a-year antidepressant habit, is not alone.

Over the summer, British politicians fretted over the impact of recession on mental health amid data showing a spike of 2.1 million antidepressant prescriptions last year, when the downturn took its first precipitous dive.

Same in India, where pharmaceutical firms reported a 20 per cent expansion of the antidepressant market in the year ending December 2008. And in New Zealand, where the global plunge was linked to reports of a near doubling in antidepressant prescriptions between 2002 and 2008.

But drill down deeper still and the story behind the flurry of cause-and-effect headlines is far more nuanced.

While many researchers acknowledge there is likely an uptick in med sales as a consequence of the poor economy, most say it is driven as much or more by trends decades in the making.


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