Antidepressants have become useful for many in the field of mental health. These medications have been shown to have marked effects on a wide range of conditions. With the growing number of depressed and underserved populations, many advocate groups and professionals around the nation have felt there should be a larger focus on the treatment of psychologically and emotionally destabilizing mental disorders. However, recent statistics have also been unearthed and raised critical questions about how individuals should seek treatment. One of these specific speculations is whether antidepressants should be used in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
Are antidepressants an effective answer or a simple one?
On the surface, the term antidepressant may seem to be connected entirely to depressive ailments and unrelated to other conditions like anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. The truth is, though, that antidepressants can actually help treat anxiety disorders, not just depression.
Originally, as advances in medication initially developed, clear lines of distinction were made between disorder treatments. While anxiolytics, also known as minor tranquilizers, were created to specifically inhibit anxiety causing agents, antidepressants were originally invented to target depression and other mood disorders. Most antidepressants operate by changing the balance of certain chemicals the human brain already creates. For instance, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) focus on blocking the absorption of serotonin in the brain, while monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) prevent the removal of norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters, which all boost intercellular communication and consequently affect a person’s mood.
However, accumulating tests and trials showed that taking antidepressants also resulted in significant decreases in anxiety. Interestingly enough, serotonin is an important element in the brain that has an effect on multiple bodily responses, including anxiety. Since then, antidepressants were gradually accepted as a general solution for a wider range of problems. Unfortunately, this trend has become too prominent in recent decades. Current research has finally caught up to some troubling developments, with numerous media outlets uncovering astounding statistics.
Worrisome trends and drawbacks
Research at the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) released a report that found for individuals aged 12 and older in the United States, the rate of antidepressant use has increased by approximately 400 percent from 1988 to 1994 and 2005 to 2008. While at a glance, this rising trend of treatment may seem like a necessary accommodation to address a multiplying, nationwide problem, other statistics tell a different story. In actuality, about one in 10 patients who visit a primary care doctor are given an antidepressant when only 44 percent of them are officially diagnosed with a clinical need for the medication. Additional observational studies have further supported these increases and introduce other reasons to this increased prescription rate.
This is problematic considering the fact that compelling new findings shed light on the effectiveness of antidepressants in cases of anxiety and how said effectiveness is presented. While increases in antidepressant prescription most likely reflect FDA-approved uses of these medications for non-depressive conditions, such as neuropathic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorder, a new analysis in JAMA Psychiatry discovered a disproportionate amount of publication bias and outcome bias in support of antidepressant efficacy for anxiety-stricken people.
Collectively conducted by researchers at Oregon State University, Oregon Health & Science University and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, the team specifically found that if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined a study on antidepressant use was positive in the case of an anxiety disorder, it was five times more likely to be published in contrast to being deemed negative. In addition, positive outcomes from drug use commonly overshadowed negative outcomes, with some results even being spun or exaggerated to seem considerably beneficial when the actual data explained otherwise.
In light of this new evidence, many experts have contemplated the alternative explanations of antidepressant overprescription and what needs to be done to remedy it. Besides from the research bias of due to the effectiveness of antidepressants, another possible reason for this trend is the inability of clinicians to accurately diagnose anxiety disorders due to the limited time they spend with patients combined with the more subtle symptoms anxiety can display. The most important factor here is that because of an unprecedented peak of individuals seeking treatment for all types of mental health issues, doctors cannot keep up with the load and may prescribe medication as an easy solution to move on. In fact, many antidepressants are prescribed by primary care physicians rather than psychiatrists, who can comparatively spend more time assessing diagnostic criteria.
Overall, there is an apparent disconnection between the doctors and mental health professionals in terms of what specific treatments patients need. Along these lines, statistics show that less than one-third of Americans who are taking a single antidepressant have actually seen a mental health professional in the past year. These trends will only continue if the gap between those who understand the individual’s personal, underlying causes of mental dysfunction and those who treat an individual’s most salient bodily symptoms.
Considering there is still a growing population of people who suffer from untreated mental disorders, it may be more productive to direct more efforts to better alternatives in treating anxiety disorders. Although medication may only be required in more extreme circumstances, a holistic balance of other services, especially therapy, has been shown to extensively lessen the negative symptoms of anxiety without the harmful side-effects of medication.
If you or someone close to you is afflicted with an anxiety disorder, contact Anxiety Treatment Centers of California to learn more about a list of available therapeutic options available in your area online or by calling 855-972-9459.