Last year in the US, antidepressants were the second-most widely prescribed drug—and they are increasingly being used by patients who haven't been diagnosed with a psychiatric condition. A new study finds that in 2007, non-psychiatrists prescribed nearly 75% of antidepressants in the US, up from 60% 10 years prior. Meanwhile, the percentage of those patients being prescribed antidepressants without a mental illness diagnosis jumped from 2.5% to 6.4%.
Though the data doesn't show exactly why such medications were prescribed, the Wall Street Journal notes that physicians could be attempting to treat mild mood or anxiety disorders, sleep disturbance, or nonspecific pain. "I think many physicians regard these drugs as relatively safe and are willing to try them in settings where there is limited effectiveness," says one professor of medicine. The problem, according to study authors, is that antidepressants "may not offer therapeutic benefits" or be any more effective than a placebo in such patients.