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CULTURE DIGEST: Antidepressant use up

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The use of antidepressant drugs in the United States has nearly doubled in recent history, according to a study released in the Archives of General Psychiatry in August.

“Significant increases in antidepressant use were evident across all sociodemographic groups examined, except African Americans,” Mark Olfson of Columbia University and Steven Marcus of the University of Pennsylvania wrote in the journal.

Antidepressants now are the most commonly prescribed class of medications in the United States. About 13 million people were prescribed antidepressants in 1996. By 2005, 27 million people — 9 percent of the population — were prescribed the drugs during the course of a year.

What might be surprising is that the majority weren’t being treated for depression. Half of the people taking antidepressants used them for back pain, nerve pain, fatigue, sleep difficulties or other problems, the study said.

Olfson said he expected to find an increase in antidepressant use, but he didn’t expect the increase to be as large as it was. He attributes the increase partly to mental health treatment becoming more accepted socially, and he expressed concern that the medications are being prescribed casually, according to WebMD.

The study also revealed that fewer people who are using antidepressants also are taking part in psychotherapy. In 1996, 31.5 percent of those surveyed also did take therapy, but in 2005 that portion had dropped to 19.8 percent.

The study authors said the decline in office visits could be attributed to out-of-pocket costs for therapy and lower insurance coverage for such visits. It’s easier and less costly to fill a prescription and pop a pill each day than to see a therapist regularly, some commentators noted.

The development of new antidepressants and more widespread advertising also could have contributed to the increase in use, Olfson said. Reuters reported that more than 164 million prescriptions for antidepressants were written in 2008, totaling $9.6 billion in U.S. sales and marking a boon for the pharmaceutical industry.

Some medical professionals warned against jumping on the antidepressant bandwagon.

“Who’s really taking these medications?” Eric Caine, chair of the department of psychiatry and co-director of the Center for the Study of Prevention of Suicide at the University of Rochester Medical Center, asked. “It’s not clear that it makes anyone healthier. That’s a fundamental issue that we don’t know. We don’t have any way of telling if this made people’s lives better.”

PRESBYTERIAN MEMBERSHIP PLUNGES — The Presbyterian Church (USA) suffered its largest single-year decline in membership in 25 years, losing nearly 70,000 people in 2008.

Church officials in Louisville, Ky., announced this summer that total membership now is just over 2 million in more than 10,000 congregations.

“Almost 104,000 people joined the PC(USA) last year, but that good news was more than offset by the 34,101 Presbyterians who died, the 34,340 who were members of the 25 congregations that left the PC(USA) for other denominations, and the staggering 104,428 who were removed from the rolls by their sessions without apparently joining any other church,” the Presbyterian News Service said.

Jack Marcum, the denomination’s coordinator of research services, said the main cause for the decline is demographic. Like other denominations, pews are filled more with older people than younger. Compared to the 34,000 Presbyterian funerals last year, the church recorded fewer than 26,000 baptisms of children, Marcum told The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville.

Marcum also noted that Presbyterians “shy away from evangelism” and only added around 6,000 new members through adult baptisms last year. Church planting also is suffering, the newspaper said.

“Since the 1960s, few new churches have been started, and so most Presbyterian churches aren’t in growing population centers,” The Tennessean said. “Last year the denomination started only 30 new churches, or one for every 330 or so churches. The Southern Baptist Convention, by contrast, starts one new church for about every 30 established churches.”

Most of the people who have left the Presbyterian Church haven’t necessarily joined another denomination. They seem to have fallen out of the habit of churchgoing, Marcum said, citing “people who are just drifting away from church.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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