Are We Living in an Overmedicated Society?
The field of medicine is constantly advancing, and we continue finding new treatments and cures within the vast realm of medical problems humans experience. While we’ve yet to find cures for things like cancer or AIDS, our life expectancies are longer than ever, and we can significantly reduce the suffering related to countless diseases and conditions.
Nowadays, we have a medication for almost everything. If we don’t have a medication to treat the problem, we have medication to treat the symptoms of that problem. The pharmaceutical companies are behemoths who rake in billions of dollars in profits for producing the drugs that we take. Almost half of all Americans take at least one prescription drug, but is everyone’s life improved by the drugs they take? Or is our society overmedicated?
The most-commonly prescribed type of medication is an antidepressant. More than 10% of the population takes an antidepressant, and women are much more likely to take on than men. As much as 25% of all women take an antidepressant. More and more people are being prescribed antidepressants every year. From 1996 to 2005, the number of prescribed antidepressants doubled, and it has continued to rise every year since.
Is 10% of the country really that depressed? What changes could have occurred in society that would make twice as many people depressed in just a few short years? Most people believe that the only way to explain this increase is that people are being overmedicated. Pharmaceutical companies and doctors, motivated by profit, push antidepressants as the answer to sadness.
There is no question that the number of prescription drugs manufactured and prescribed each year continues to rise, especially antidepressants. Most outside of the pharmaceutical field feel that society is being grossly overmedicated. In fact, most of the new medications on the market (two-thirds between 1995 and 2004), were simply copycat alternatives to medication that already existed. Drug companies have been consistently cutting their budgets for research and development while increasing their budgets for marketing twofold.
If we do live in an overmedicated society, profit by drug companies and doctors is clearly a driving force. Many other problems have been suggested, too. Too often, doctors rely on a patient’s self-reporting of symptoms to treat them. If a person says they are depressed, a doctor may take their word for it and write them a prescription, because there are no biological tests that can clearly diagnose depression. It is possible that many people who are just sad, stressed, or going through a rough patch in life are inaccurately diagnosed as clinically depressed.
The stigma against mental illness is another factor that could be significantly contributing to the rise in antidepressant use. Some studies have suggested that placebos work just as well as antidepressants and that talk therapy is 20% more effective than antidepressants. Therapy and other forms of treatment for depression, however, are not always readily available. Instead of getting help to address their issues, people are encouraged to take a medication so their symptoms will just go away. People who seek therapy and other forms of treatment are often stigmatized as emotionally weak or crazy. At the very least, therapy for depression and other mental illnesses is not as common as it probably should be.
Unfortunately, it seems like medication, especially for depression, is often the first suggestion for a solution. If society was not overmedicated, a prescription would be the last resort, after other forms of treatment (such as counseling or exercise for depression) were attempted and found unsuccessful.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that there are many people who do require medication for depression. When we jump to the conclusion that society is overmedicated, we often discredit how beneficial antidepressants have been for so many people. We can’t forget that things aren’t always black or white. What do you think? Are we too depressed? Are we overmedicated? What can be done to find the right balance between medication and other treatments?