Anti-depressant usage on a big rise Source: Psychology Today
Anti-depressant usage on a big rise Source: Psychology Today

Written by Elise Whitaker, edited for online by Brent Gray.

A new study in the Medical Journal of Australia has suggested doctors are over-prescribing anti-depressant medication, despite studies showing they are not as effective once thought.

Australia has one of the highest rates of anti-depressant use in the world, with more than 1 in 10 Australians using the drugs – double the rate from the year 2000.

Professionals say the rising numbers are because more patients are willing to come forward and seek help.

Doctor Christopher Davey from the Orygen Youth Health Research Centre says the report reveals a positive change in society’s views around depression and other mental health disorders.

“There’s less stigma around depression and more people are seeking help for it which is a really positive thing.”

Depression and Anxiety statistics in Australia
Depression and Anxiety statistics in Australia Source: Brent Gray created with Canva, Data from White Cloud Foundation

However, Dr Davey believes both doctors and patients are too familiar with medication and see it as a quick-fix option, rather than suggesting treatments that are under-prescribed like psychotherapy.

“It’s probably true that we doctors are too quick to write an anti-depressant rather than to consider other treatments as first line,” said Dr Davey.

For some of the 1 in 10 people taking anti-depressants, medication may be the best treatment option, but Dr Davey said up to forty percent of cases have a placebo effect, providing no benefits over a prolonged period of time.

“One of the things we see in clinical practice is people who have been on the same low, ineffective dose of their anti-depressant for months and years, it hasn’t really helped them they’ve just sort of plodded along with it,” he added.

Queensland Mental Health Association National Manager Richard Norman said despite medication being effective for some, in recent years, patients are more open when discussing mental health issues and people are far more likely to encourage loved ones to seek help.

However Norman doesn’t think doctors should prescribe for patients based on a-one-size-fits-all basket.

“Medication is great, but if it comes along side with counseling, exercise and a good diet it’s going to give them a really good chance to recover from depression.”

The study confirms the effect of combined treatment like psychotherapy along with a healthy life style is best for depression, in comparison to using either treatment alone.