The Public Interest

The medicalization of unhappiness

Ronald W. Dworkin

Summer 2001

THE use of psychotropic medication in depressed patients has increased in the United States by more than 40 percent over the last decade, from 32 million office visits resulting in a drug prescription to over 45 million. This is in marked contrast to the period between 1978 and 1987, when the number of office visits resulting in a psychotropic drug prescription remained relatively stable. The bulk of the increase can be accounted for by the aggressive use of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) in patients.  It is the class of drugs that includes Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. The question is: Are more Americans clinically depressed now than in the past, or has medical science started to treat the far more common experience of “everyday unhappiness” with medication, thereby increasing the number of drug prescriptions?

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