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Americans Warming to Psychiatric Drugs

Survey Shows Americans Adopting More Favorable Attitudes Toward Depression, Anxiety Medications

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

July 31, 2009 -- American attitudes toward psychiatric medications are becoming more positive, with more and more believing these drugs work at relieving panic attacks and anxiety, a new study shows.

For the study, which appears in the August issue of the journal Psychiatric Services, researchers compared the responses of people who participated in the U.S. General Social Surveys in 1998 and 2006.

The researchers found:

  • 68% of those surveyed in 2006 think psychiatric medications make us feel better about ourselves, compared to 60% in 1998.
  • 83% think these drugs help us deal better with the stresses of everyday life, vs. 78% 11 years ago.
  • 76% think these drugs make it easier to deal with family and friends, compared to 68% in 1998.
  • 49% of Americans are now willing to take drugs to battle depression, up from 41%.
  • 64% think these medications help us deal with panic attacks.

Psychiatric Drugs: Downside of Changing Attitudes

The survey also showed that the percentage of people willing to take psychiatric drugs for nonspecific problems also is increasing. For example, 29% are willing to take these medications to help in their personal lives, up from 23%, and 47% see the drugs as a way to help cope with stress.

“This finding calls for a more targeted and selective approach in public information campaigns aimed at improving public understanding of the proper uses of psychiatric medications,” study author Ramin Mojtabai, MD, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says in a news release.

One reason for the more favorable attitude toward drugs is that the public is becoming more aware that mental health can be improved, he writes. Another reason may be direct-to-consumer advertising, which touts benefits of medications. Also, mental health issues have received more public discussion in recent years.

The results are “consistent with the finding of growing use of antidepressant medications” among people who don't meet criteria for anxiety or mood disorders, he says.

Over the years, he adds, negative attitudes about psychiatric drugs have been among the greatest challenges in treating mental health problems.

SOURCES: News release, American Psychiatric Association. Mojtabai, R. Psychiatric Services, August 2009; vol 60.

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