Australians are taking antidepressants in ever increasing quantities

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Australians are taking antidepressants in ever increasing quantities but the rates of self-harm and poisoning haven’t increased, according to research in the Medical Journal of Australia.

A study, over 26 years from from 1987 to 2012, used admissions data from a toxicology centre serving
Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Port Stephens, in New South Wales.

It found that although there was a more than six-fold increase in antidepressant use, there was only a 1.34-fold rise in the proportion of poisonings due to antidepressants.

Of the 17,266 admissions of patients, most (88.8%) were attempts at self-harm.

The median age of admitted patients was 32 years. Most (55.4%) of the 17,266 admissions were of single patients. Less than a quarter (23.8%) were married patients and very few were either separated or divorced (about 8% each).

Professor Geoffrey Isbister, from the University of Newcastle’s School of Medicine and Public Health, and his co-authors wrote that changes in the kinds of antidepressants being prescribed (from more to less toxic) was a significant factor.

“Despite a large increase in prescriptions for drugs used to treat psychiatric illness (and a range of other major mental health interventions), there appears to have been no positive result in terms of reducing episodes of self-harm,” the authors write.

“Interestingly, there was a more than sixfold increase in the use of antidepressants, and while the agents taken in overdose changed substantially, there were only small changes in rates of antidepressant overdoses.

“It probably indicates that antidepressants are increasingly being prescribed for patients who have minimal risk of self-harm. Reassuringly, there is no evidence in our population to support concerns about pro-suicidal effects of new antidepressant prescriptions.”

(If you are feeling depressed you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.)

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