Significantly more Americans are taking prescription drugs for mental illness since 1996 according to a new study. Researchers believe the increase is due in part to expanded insurance coverage and a greater familiarity with the drugs among primary care doctors.
The findings indicate 73% more adults and 50% more children are using drugs to treat mental illness than in 1986. Among those over the age of 65, use of psychotropic medication has doubled between 1996 and 2006. Similarly, children diagnosed and treated for mental health conditions by their primary care physician have doubled between 1996 and 2006.
Mental health has become more of a mainstream issue within overall health and access to such care has improved. One problem the researches underscore is the lack of access to mental health services by the severely mentally ill. Lack of treatment can lead to these individuals ending up in the criminal justice system according to the researchers.
While the researchers point out that access to mental health services has increased significantly and that this is a positive outcome, it is also reasonable to question if something else besides access accounts for increased utilization of psychotropic medication. In particular, why are so many children being treated for mental health problems and being treated with medication?
It is important for the United States and all nations to provide appropriate diagnostic and treatment interventions. This includes medication and non-medication treatments and certainly a greater reliance on proactive rather than reactive approaches to care.