Context: Antidepressants have recently become the most commonly prescribed class of medications in the United States.
Objective: To compare sociodemographic and clinical patterns of antidepressant medication treatment in the United States between 1996 and 2005.
Design: Analysis of antidepressant use data from the 1996 (n = 18 993) and 2005 (n = 28 445) Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys.
Setting: Households in the United States.
Participants: Respondents aged 6 years or older who reported receiving at least 1 antidepressant prescription during that calendar year.
Main outcome measures: Rate of antidepressant use and adjusted rate ratios (ARRs) of year effect on rate of antidepressant use adjusted for age, sex, race/ethnicity, annual family income, self-perceived mental health, and insurance status.
Results: The rate of antidepressant treatment increased from 5.84% (95% confidence interval [CI], 5.47-6.23) in 1996 to 10.12% (9.58-10.69) in 2005 (ARR, 1.68; 95% CI, 1.55-1.81), or from 13.3 to 27.0 million persons. Significant increases in antidepressant use were evident across all sociodemographic groups examined, except African Americans (ARR, 1.13; 95% CI, 0.89-1.44), who had comparatively low rates of use in both years (1996, 3.61%; 2005, 4.51%). Although antidepressant treatment increased for Hispanics (ARR, 1.75; 95% CI, 1.60-1.90), it remained comparatively low (1996, 3.72%; 2005, 5.21%). Among antidepressant users, the percentage of patients treated for depression did not significantly change (1996, 26.25% vs 2005, 26.85%; ARR, 0.95; 95% CI, 0.83-1.07), although the percentage of patients receiving antipsychotic medications (5.46% vs 8.86%; ARR, 1.77; 95% CI, 1.31-2.38) increased and those undergoing psychotherapy declined (31.50% vs 19.87%; ARR, 0.65; 95% CI, 0.56-0.72).
Conclusions: From 1996 to 2005, there was a marked and broad expansion in antidepressant treatment in the United States, with persisting low rates of treatment among racial/ethnic minorities. During this period, individuals treated with antidepressants became more likely to also receive treatment with antipsychotic medications and less likely to undergo psychotherapy.