Antidepressant prescriptions on the rise, but mental health is not improving - study

The number of Kiwis being given antidepressants is continuing to increase, yet researchers admit there is no evidence to suggest they are improving mental health or reducing suicides.

An Otago University study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal on Friday examined prescribing trends for antidepressants between 2008 and 2015.

It was the best antidepressant user group of European women, particularly those aged 65 and over, who surprised Professor Roger Mulder, one of the lead researchers.

They are probably not the most common, but they're probably not the most severe, but they're probably not the same.

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"Mulder said," Mulder said. "What we seem to be doing is a significant reduction in levels of community distress," he said.

They're roughly the same. "


European women 65 years and more antidepressants, according to new study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal. (File photo)

While prescription numbers increased during the research period, the rate of those increases was slowing, in keeping with prescription patterns in other like-minded countries.

"The fact that our community measures of mental health is not getting better" "Australia and the United Kingdom, the USA and Canada" – there's very similar trends, "Mulder said.

"We would like to be able to do that, but we will not be able to help you."

Researchers have attributed the variety of factors, changes in patient-doctor attitudes and a broadening range of conditions treated with antidepressants.


A study looking at antidepressant prescribing trends between 2008 and 2015 shows. (File photo)

Mulder, who was based at Otago University's Christchurch campus, said the research raised questions about the way prescriptions were being used.

Antidepressant prescriptions improved community mental health or reduced suicide, the researchers suggested a change in tact.

Antidepressants have significant side effects and we have limited evidence for long-term efficacy, "the study said.


Otago University Professor Roger Mulder says while antidepressant prescriptions are continuing to increase, there has been an improvement in the mental health community. (File photo)

"Perhaps it is time to switch from" treatment gap "to" quality gap "so that antidepressant use is targeted to those who are most likely to benefit."

The findings show Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), which work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, accounted for half of all antidepressant prescriptions.


  • 12.6 per cent of all New Zealanders were prescribed an antidepressant in 2015
  • The most prescribed group was European women aged 65 and over (22.8 per cent)
  • Prescriptions increased across all ethnic groups
  • Largest class of prescribed drugs were SSRIs (57 per cent of all antidepressant prescriptions)
  • Females had higher antidepressant usage than males in all age groups

Source: New Zealand Medical Journal

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