Global study questions antidepressant use, points to social determinants of mental health

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In an era where mental health issues like depression are at the forefront of global public health concerns, the reliance on antidepressants as a primary treatment strategy is being critically re-evaluated.

A new study by Roger T. Mulder from the University of Otago, New Zealand, and Anthony F. Jorm from the University of Melbourne, Australia, published in BJPsych Open, reveals that increased antidepressant prescribing is not linked to a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms. Instead, factors like income, education, and life expectancy, as measured by the Human Development Index, show a more significant correlation with reduced depression rates.

“The findings reinforce the view that addressing the high prevalence rates of depression via symptom recognition and treatment with antidepressants is unlikely to be effective. The absolute long-term efficacy of antidepressants in real-world settings is disappointingly modest. This low effectiveness for antidepressants (and depression treatments in general, if we are honest) at the population level suggests that decreasing the treatment gap will have little impact on the community prevalence of depression,” the researchers write.
“However, the fact that income, education, and life expectancy (as measured using the HDI) are significantly associated with the prevalence of sadness, worry, and unhappiness suggests that alternative ways of addressing depression at a community level might be more productive.”

The findings underscore the need to shift the focus from merely expanding access to antidepressants to addressing the underlying social determinants that contribute to mental health issues. The study, therefore, calls for a re-evaluation of current public health strategies in combating depression, advocating for a more holistic approach that encompasses economic and educational improvements.

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Liam is a studying to complete his master’s degree in animal studies at New York University. He graduated from Bard College as a biology/psychology double major and completed independent research about the psychology of perceiving conservation efforts. Liam is especially interested in using feminist and queer theory to unpack current systemic issues that affect otherized, marginalized groups. When he isn’t writing, Liam is likely walking with his dogs.