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Antidepressant Use Peaks Just Before Divorce

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticAugust 15, 2013 9:07 PM


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People are almost twice as likely to be taking antidepressants or other psychotropic medication just before getting a divorce. This striking graph, from a new paper out of Finland, shows the data.

Use of psychotropic medication over time (in months)

The vertical bar represents the divorce date. The solid curve is the divorcees, and the other two are comparison individuals who were either married throughout the period, or not married at all.

In both the male and the female divorcees, rates of psychotropic use began to climb about four years before the divorce date, peaking a few months before the event.

Afterwards, usage declined – does this mean that divorce is, more often than not, a positive turning point?

Even five years before the eventual split, the divorcees-to-be used slightly more psychotropics than those whose marriages lasted.

These trends were driven by antidepressants, with sedatives, anxiety and sleeping pills also contributing. Use of antipsychotics didn’t change before divorce.

So what? Well, many say that antidepressants (and the rest) are often prescribed as a result of ‘medicalizing’ normal emotional problems that arise in life.

This argument is often made as a lazy generalization with no supporting evidence, but, while these data don’t prove it, they’re consistent with the theory.

However, it is important to remember that if antidepressants are sometimes prescribed inappropriately, this doesn’t tell us anything about antidepressants, but rather about our prescribing habits. Antibiotics are used inappropriately too, but you can’t blame the antibiotics for it.

Metsä-Simola N, & Martikainen P (2013). Divorce and changes in the prevalence of psychotropic medication use: A register-based longitudinal study among middle-aged Finns. Social science & medicine (1982), 94, 71-80 PMID: 23931947

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