Psych Drugs Gaining Widespread Acceptance

FRIDAY July 31, 2009 -- A growing number of Americans now have a positive opinion on psychiatric medications, a new study contends.

About five out of six people surveyed felt psychiatric medications could help people control psychiatric symptoms, but many also expected the medications could help people deal with day-to-day stresses, help them feel better about themselves and make things easier with family and friends.

"People's attitudes regarding psychiatric medications became more favorable between 1998 and 2006," said study author Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, an associate professor in the department of mental health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

Mojtabai expressed concern, however, that people's attitudes were increasingly positive, even in situations where there might not be a proven benefit to the drugs.

"My hope would be for people to be more discriminating in their views about the effects of these medications. I would hope they'd be more willing to accept them for treating panic and depression, but not for things like stress," he said.

Results of the study will be published in the August issue of Psychiatric Services.

Mojtabai wanted to assess American's opinions of psychiatric medications for a number of reasons. One is that the use of such medications has soared in recent years. Between 1990 and 2000, he said, the use of antidepressants increased fivefold. Another reason is that the government has allowed direct-to-consumer advertising for the drugs. And finally, he said that he wanted to learn if the recent FDA black box warnings on some antidepressants and antipsychotics had any effect on people's opinions of these drugs.

Using data from the U.S. General Social Surveys from 1998 and 2006, Mojtabai compared the two periods to examine people's attitudes toward psychiatric medications.

The initial sample for 1998 included 1,387 people, while the 2006 survey included 1,437 people. Both groups included slightly more females than males. More than 70 percent of both groups were white, and more than half had more than a high school education.

In 1998, 84 percent of people agreed with the statement, "These medications help people control their symptoms." In 2006, that number had edged up slightly, to 86 percent.

By 2006, more people believed that psychiatric medications could help people feel better about themselves (68 percent vs. 60 percent), help people deal with stress (83 percent compared to 78 percent), and make things easier with family and friends (76 percent compared to 68 percent).

People were somewhat more willing to take these medications themselves: 29 percent in 2006 vs. 23 percent in 1998. Opinions about the drugs' potential adverse effects didn't change over time, according to the study.

Mojtabai said that advertising may have helped increased people's positive perceptions of these drugs. But, he added, there is also an increasing awareness that many psychiatric disorders have a biological or organic cause that medications may be able to help correct.

Dr. Norman Sussman, interim chairman of the psychiatry department at New York University Langone Medical Center, said that advertising has definitely played a role in people's perceptions of these drugs, noting that many people now ask him for medications by name. He added that another reason may be word-of-mouth endorsements from people who are taking these medications and have been helped by them.

"These drugs have become a part of our culture," Sussman said. "Fifty years ago, psychiatric drugs were something you'd take only if psychotherapy failed. Today, psychotherapy often isn't affordable, and the nature of treating symptoms has shifted toward medications. When these drugs work -- for anxiety, insomnia, depression, mania -- they can be miraculous for that person. But, none of them work universally."

More information

Learn more about medications for depression from the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Posted: July 2009


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