Long-term use of antipsychotics and antidepressants is not evidence-based

Int J Risk Saf Med. 2020;31(1):37-42. doi: 10.3233/JRS-195060.


Background: The widespread use of psychiatric drugs does not appear to be evidence-based but seems to be driven mainly by commercial pressures. I studied whether two widely differing drug classes, antipsychotics and antidepressants, showed similar patterns in long-term usage.

Methods: I constructed usage curves over a ten-year period, from 2006 to 2016, based on data from Statistics Denmark.

Results: In 2006, a total of 110,235 patients deemed a prescription for an antipsychotic and 395,018 for an antidepressant, corresponding to 2.0% and 7.3% of the Danish population. Only 21,846 vs. 79,030 of these were first-time users (19.8% vs. 20.0%). The percentage of current users who redeemed a prescription for the same or a similar drug in each of the following years was remarkably similar for the two classes of drugs, and after ten years, it was 35% vs. 33%.Using the requirement that the patients identified in 2006 needed to redeem the prescription only once during the next ten years, 42% vs. 43% were taking a drug in 2016. This suggests that most patients identified at any given point in time as drug users continue taking such drugs for many years, with little or no interruption in drug intake.For first-time users, the drop in usage was much quicker. The percentage of first-time users who redeemed a prescription for the same or a similar drug in each of the following years fell to about one-third (29% vs. 36%) already after two years.Using 2011 as the starting year yielded similar results.

Conclusions: If we accept the evidence-based premises that antipsychotics and antidepressants do not have clinically relevant effects and that the patients dislike them, the data suggest massive overuse of the drugs, to a remarkably similar degree. We need to focus on helping patients withdraw slowly and safely from the drugs they are on instead of telling them that they need to stay on them.

Keywords: Antipsychotics; antidepressants; usage.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antidepressive Agents / standards*
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antipsychotic Agents / standards*
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Denmark
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / standards*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / statistics & numerical data
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / trends*
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Time Factors


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Antipsychotic Agents