Nightly News   |  October 23, 2011

More than 1 in 10 US adults take antidepressants

A Centers for Disease Control survey found recently that 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 12 take antidepressants. NBC's Robert Bazell reports.

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LESTER HOLT, anchor: An important medical story to tell you about tonight. The federal government is reporting a huge increase in recent years in the number of Americans taking antidepressant medicines. We asked NBC 's chief science correspondent Robert Bazell to look behind the numbers.

ROBERT BAZELL reporting: To the outside world, Terry Williams was a successful businesswoman. But secretly she suffered from crippling anxiety, and often couldn't get out of bed in the morning.

Ms. TERRY WILLIAMS: It was like I was paralyzed, in tears, in a fetal position, not wanting to face the day.

BAZELL: That all changed when she was diagnosed with clinical depression . She began taking antidepressants and has slowly gotten her condition under control. The 57-year-old Williams is hardly alone. The CDC report finds that more than one in 10 Americans over 12 years old takes antidepressant drugs , an increase of 400 percent over the past two decades. Experts say there are many reasons for the sharp increase. The latest drugs are safer and more effective than earlier antidepressants. They are also used to treat conditions such as anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Dr. PAUL RAGAN (Vanderbilt University Medical Center): The acceptance in our society for getting your -- getting treatment for your depression or anxiety is much, much higher.

BAZELL: But marketing also plays a role. The survey finds that twice as many women as men take the drugs. Among women 40 to 59, like Ms. Williams , fully 23 percent take them.

Source: CDC

Ms. JULIE TOTTEN (Families For Depression Awareness): Women are much more likely to seek help for depression and get treated than men are. And in addition, they're in roles as caregivers which puts them at a greater vulnerability for depression.

BAZELL: Despite the large numbers, experts say many people who need help are still not getting it, with only one third of those with symptoms of severe depression taking the drugs.

Source: CDC

BAZELL: Miss Williams credits a combination of talk therapy and antidepressants for her recovery.

Ms. WILLIAMS: You know, I'm not where -- exactly where I want to be, but thank God I'm not where I used to be.

BAZELL: The goal, experts say, is to get medications to those in need, and be certain that all those who take them truly benefit. Robert Bazell , NBC News, New York.