Antidepressant use soars despite static depression prevalence, study finds

Researchers have found that use of antidepressants has risen, despite little change in the prevalence of depression across two decades.

Older woman taking pill

Use of antidepressants among older people has more than doubled over the past 20 years, despite little change in the prevalence of depression, research published in The British Journal of Psychiatry (7 October 2019) has shown[1]

Researchers conducted two sets of interviews, two decades apart, with people aged over 65 years. Participants were asked about their medicines use and the researchers used a standardised interview process to determine the presence or absence of symptoms of depression.

Diagnostic criteria were applied to determine the degree of depression, recorded as no symptoms, subclinical depression or case-level depression.

The researchers found little change in the prevalence of depression between participants questioned between 1990 and 1993 and those questioned between 2008 and 2011, but the proportion of participants taking antidepressants rose from 4.2% to 10.7%.

“[Access to] newer antidepressants means that it is easier to treat older people for depression, but it is disappointing that increases in the proportion [of people] receiving antidepressants isn’t reflected in any real decrease in the prevalence of depression,” said Antony Arthur, professor of nursing science at the University of East Anglia’s School of Health Sciences and lead author of the study.

“Ongoing review is important for those treated for depression,” he added.


[1] Arthur A, Savva G, Barnes L et al. Changing prevalence and treatment of depression among older people over two decades: findings from the Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies. Br J Psych. doi: 10.1192/bjp.2019.193

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, December 2019, Vol 303, No 7932;303(7932):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2019.20207367

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