Iceland Tops Worldwide Antidepressant Consumption

December 20, 2013

Iceland Tops Worldwide Antidepressant Consumption

by Niall McCarthy


Over the course of the past ten years, the consumption of anti-depressants has skyrocketed across much of the developed world. According to the OECD, rich countries are consuming at least 10 percent more antidepressants than they were a decade ago.

Even though rates of depression have not risen globally, more people are being diagnosed with the illness all over the world. Awareness levels about depression have proven an important factor when it comes to greater drug consumption – greater awareness leads to greater social acceptance of medication.

The OECD also stated that the financial crisis may have been a factor in recent spikes in antidepressant prescriptions. In Spain and Portugal, consumption has increased by a whopping 20 percent over the past five years. What country is actually on top when it comes to taking this type of medication?


Iceland is way ahead at almost twice the OECD average. An early casualty of the global financial crisis, it has the highest prescribing rate at 105.8 doses per day per 1,000 inhabitants. In 2000, this figure was 70.9 per 1,000.  Back in 1989, it was just 14.9. These consumption levels can be attributed to the catastrophic failure of Iceland’s three primary banks, as well as the fact that alternative treatments for depression, such as psychotherapy, are deeply unpopular.

When compared with those alternative treatments, antidepressant drugs were viewed as being more effective by the Icelandic population. However, research suggests that the prescription of this medication has still had little impact on depression levels in the country. On the contrary, percentage of people seeking psychiatric consultations have actually increased.

After Iceland, Australia, Canada, Denmark and Sweden round off the top five countries for the consumption of antidepressant medication. Drugs are now being used in milder cases and this is heightening concerns about their appropriateness as a first resort for sufferers. The majority of psychiatrists agree that medication works well on people suffering from severe cases of depression – they should not be used in milder instances.

More than one in 10 people in developing nations are taking antidepressant medication. In the United States for instance, 10 percent of adults take antidepressants. In China, the market has grown by 20 percent for each of the past three years. This begs the question. Why are doctors freely prescribing these drugs to so many people?

Though there have been cases of people trying to commit suicide, antidepressants are not addictive and side-effects are kept to a minimum. As it stands antidepressants are overprescribed in a desperate attempt to combat growing life dissatisfaction and unhappiness. It seems like they are the “quick and easy solution”.

There are depression treatments that can be administered non-pharmacologically – psychotherapy methods (e.g. cognitive behaviour therapy) are widely regarded as being as effective as antidepressants in the long term. Doctors need to start correctly identifying the symptoms of milder depression and start realising that drugs are not always the answer.


Image Credit: Jeff Schmaltz/Wikimedia