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Last Updated on September 15, 2016

Americans are popping more antidepressants than ever before to cope with everyday anxiety, and non-psychiatrists are increasingly willing to prescribe the drugs to patients with no mental health diagnosis, a new study finds.

Antidepressants like Paxil Prozac and Lexapro are the third most widely prescribed group of drugs in America, without being completely conscious of possible dangers, and many people may take them for minor criticisms, the researchers said.

“Both consumers and prescribers of antidepressants should be more knowledgeable about the indicators (or symptoms) that antidepressants are better for,” said study lead author Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. “Although these drugs don’t have many acute side effects, there may be more long term adverse effects.”

The study authors said the increases do not necessarily mean that the drugs are being used but it’s vital to comprehend why antidepressant use is growing and, if required, to develop policies that ensure patients get the most effective treatment.

Using data from annual surveys by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the researchers reviewed the records of 233,144 adult patients who made physician visits between 1996 and 2007.

The research, published in the August issue of Health Affairs, found the portion of prescriptions for antidepressants written by non-psychiatrists more than doubled from about 4 percent to almost 9 percent over the 12-year period.

This included 9,454 antidepressant prescriptions for patients without a diagnosis of depression or other mental illness normally treated the drugs. For the group, the speed jumped from 2.5 percent at the start of the study period to 6.4 percent, the researchers said.

The analysis cautioned that the psychiatric diagnosis could have already been made in some cases, but just wasn’t noted in the records examined.

By comparison, prescriptions for antidepressants for patients with diagnoses for example persistent or leading depression rose by 44 percent, a much smaller increase.

About 4,000 patients who did have a mental health diagnosis received the drugs from non-shrinks in the study period.

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The drugs prescribed to patients without a diagnosed mental health illness were more likely supplied to white women between the ages of 35-64 and patients with long-term health conditions and public insurance, such as diabetes and heart problems. The data also suggested that people complaining of sleep problems nervousness, sexual dysfunction and an inability to quit smoking may be taking antidepressants, the study said.

Americans are turning to handle everyday stress more frequently as the stigma of using antidepressants decreases, said Mojtabai, noting more than 10 percent of Americans now take antidepressants in any particular year.

Direct marketing to consumers and reports of fewer side effects can help explain why patients and physicians tend to be more open to antidepressants, he said.

But there may be effects to that particular pick.

Some research indicates that withdrawal from antidepressants after many years “is just not nice,” said Mojtabai, who added that a potential connection to diabetes has additionally been found. Not enough is known about how their use plays out in the long term, said Mojtabai.

“Pharmaceutical companies aren’t interested in long-term effects because they do not need that for FDA approval,” said Mojtabai, referring to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which approves drugs for use in the United States.

Another expert agreed that Americans are turning more to pills that were prescribed to deal with the ups and downs of life, but he noted that in the past, alcohol and other drugs functioned the same function.

“Before antidepressants came along, many people simply turned to drinking and smoking to deal with minor strain,” said Tony Tang, adjunct professor in the department of psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Even though the study didn’t “solve the mystery” of why antidepressant prescriptions are raising, it demonstrated “how antidepressants are actually utilized in real life,” and on a “national scale,” said Tang.

Doctors are likely more aware today of the symptoms of depression, which has “increased considerably in the past decade,” he said.

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