Canadians among the biggest antidepressant users in the world: study

Matthew Coutts
PILLS OF ALL KINDS.
Fil photo illustration of pills of all kinds, shapes and colours, March 2003. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen/Files

Canadians are among the biggest users of antidepressants in the world, according to a recent study that suggests use is on the incline in most, if not all, developed nations.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has found that 86 doses are consumed daily per 1,000 Canadians. The number ranks third among the 23 developed nations in the survey, only behind Iceland (106 doses) and Australia (89 doses).

It is not a complete list, the United States and Russia are among those notably absent, but the consensus across the board is that antidepressant use is going up in developed countries.

While previous information for Canada was not available, Iceland showed a 50 per cent increase between 2000 and 2011. Australia's antidepressant use doubled. Increases in other countries, specifically Denmark and Portugal, were even more extreme.

The missing historical information for Canada makes it difficult to determine whether our country has seen the same extreme increase in antidepressant use. But all signs point in that direction.

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A University of Toronto study found that the prescription of antidepressants increased from 3.2 million to 14.5 million between 1981 and 2000 -- a 353 per cent increase. Considering the noted increase elsewhere following that time frame and a continued increase in Canada is likely.

But why is antidepressant use going up in developed countries? There are a few suggestions.

Financial insecurity

The use of antidepressants appears to be on the rise in rich countries, leading some to question a connection between depression and health. Or perhaps the sudden lack of it. The study itself suggests a link to the recent economic crisis.

Spain and Portugal, two countries among the hardest hit by the euro debt crisis were among those with the highest increase in antidepressant use. As the Globe and Mail points out, Canada rebounded far more quickly to the global financial crisis. But unemployment still sits at seven per cent and job security is still a concern.

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Over-medication

U.K. psychiatrist and professor Tim Cantopher suggested that the increase in antidepressant use, compared to the relatively lower increase in depression, suggests an over-reliance on the drug.

He told the Daily Mail, "Antidepressants are widely oversubscribed to get rid of unhappiness. They were not designed for that. Unhappiness is part of the human condition. But real clinical depression does respond to antidepressants. And not to prescribe in these cases is to sentence an individual to a far longer illness than he or she need suffer."

Social acceptance

Whereas it was once perceived to be taboo to be seen taking antidepressants, there is some thought that a disappearing stigma may be tied to the increase in use. "Changes in the social acceptability and willingness to seek treatment during episodes of depression may also contribute to increased consumption," the report suggests.