Many take antidepressants without psychiatric reasons in the US

More than a quarter of Americans who use antidepressants were never diagnosed with any of the conditions for which these drugs are often used, according to a study.

As a result, millions of people could be exposed to the side effects of these drugs with no proven health benefits, said Jina Pagura, a psychologist and current medical student at the University of Manitoba in Canada, and colleagues who worked on the study.

"We can not be sure that the risks and side effects of antidepressants are outweighed by the benefits of taking in people who do not meet the criteria for major depression," said Pagura told Reuters Health.

For the research, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, Pagura team went to survey data that included a nationally representative sample of 20,000 U.S. adults between 2001 and 2003.

About one in 10 people told interviewers that he had been taking antidepressants in the previous year, but quarter of those people had never been diagnosed with any medical conditions commonly treated with these drugs, such as major depression and anxiety disorder.

"These individuals probably are approaching their doctors with concerns that may be related to depression and may include symptoms such as sleep problems, irritability, difficulty in relationships, and so on." Pagura said.

"Although an antidepressant help with those issues, problems could also go on their own over time, or be more susceptible to counseling or psychotherapy," she said.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 15 million people in U.S. suffer from major depression and 40 million have anxiety disorders.

While the survey did not include all mental illnesses that might have led doctors to prescribe antidepressants, other experts noted that recent results are not exaggerated.

"The reviews suggest that only about 50 percent of patients who are prescribed antidepressants receive a psychiatric diagnosis," said Mark Olfson, a psychiatrist at Columbia University in New York.

With sales of U.S. $ 9,900 million in 2009, up 3 percent from the previous year, antidepressants are fourth among prescription drugs in the U.S., according to IMS Health, a company that analyzes the pharmaceutical industry.

While studies have shown that help some people with depression, have an additional cost beyond the $ 100 a month or more spent on them: some users experience sexual problems or weight gain.

But health experts indicate that it is still not easy to say conclusively whether antidepressants are being prescribed excessively.

"No doubt there are many people who are prescribing antidepressants are not effective for them, but there are millions of Americans who suffer from depression and not receiving antidepressants or are prescribed at doses below the optimal," said Jeffrey Harman, University of Florida in Gainesville, who was not involved in the study.

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