NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Overdiagnosis May Be Responsible for Rise in Mental Disorders

November 23, 2011

Antipsychotic drug prescriptions, along with medications for depression and anxiety, are on the rise across America for both genders, almost all age groups and across various distinct regions, says the Daily Mail (U.K.).

The gains made are particularly prevalent among women -- a population that witnesses a quarter of its members taking medication currently.

  • In total, more than 20 percent of American adults were found to be on at least one drug for mental health disorders.
  • Women are twice as likely as men to use anxiety treatments, with 11 percent of women ages 45 to 65 on an anxiety medication.
  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder prescriptions to adult women grew 2.5 times from 2001.

A crucial point to make is that, as many doctors are quick to point out, it is not clear that more people (and especially women) are developing more mental disorders than in prior decades.  Rather, the recent trending can be explained by superior screening mechanisms or overdiagnosis by physicians.

There are also significant regional disparities for increases in mental health prescriptions, with certain portions of the United States witnessing rates of usage that are drastically lower than even those states with which they share a border.

  • The "east south central" region, as the study refers to it, is made up of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky, and has the highest rate of use at 23.3 percent.
  • Meanwhile, the "east north central" that is made up of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin maintains the lowest rate of use at 14.6 percent.

Source: "One in Four American Women Take Medication for a Mental Disorder," Daily Mail (U.K.), November 17, 2011.  "America's State of Mind: New Report Finds Americans Increasingly Turn to Medications to Ease their Mental Woes; Women Lead the Trend," Medco, November 16, 2011.

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