Antidepressant use rising

(Photo by Kate Turner)

Antidepressant use is on the rise for students, according to StudentCare Networks, which provides health insurance at the post-secondary level. It provides coverage for upwards of 600,000 students across the country.

“Around the late 1990s, maybe around 2000, we saw that new categories that began to be much more heavily utilized and those were antidepressants or psychoactive medications,” recalled StudentCare Networks director Lev Bukhman. This has continued to climb, reaching the point today where claims for drugs countering depression and anxiety often surpass those made for contraceptives, a clear reverse in the trend from several decades ago.

While increases in antidepressant use may seem alarming at first consideration, mental health worker Amanda Cappon doesn’t believe it’s necessarily a negative reflection on society.

Cappon works with students in the counselling department at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and Durham College.

“They [society] become scared when they hear that, that there’s been an increased number, as if it’s some epidemic that’s developing in our society,” she said.

A positive outlook on this trend, noted by Cappon, is that there is a greater societal comfort with discussing and addressing mental health issues, which may be leading more people to seek treatment.

“We see an increased awareness on campus about mental health and the students right now … are more and more likely to seek help for mental health issues,” said Alysha Li, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA).

Bukhman added, “[There] was a general destigmitization of mental health and being on medication. That destigimitization created, I think, a more broader acceptance of the use of those drugs.”

Other theories which attempt to explain this growing tendency are linked to developments in the medical field.

According to Bukhman, in the mid-to-late 1990s, “many more drugs were invented and created that it really increased the treatment options.”

The underlying issues of why students may be dealing with increased anxiety or depression is another important consideration.

From Bukhman’s perspective, “It’s a symptom of social structures that are not working.”

Expressing that the stress of university may have increased, he continued, “The velocity and pace of academic life and intensity of it is so great, and the competitiveness factor is so extremely high.”

High tuition, lack of adequate resources and social changes could also be contributed factors, Bukhman said.

“I wouldn’t say that we necessarily have more stress, but definitely a different set of challenges that we haven’t seen before,” contested Li.

She acknowledged that there is action being taken to address this, such as the Mental Health Innovation Fund, an initiative launched by the Ministry of Colleges, Training and Universities that will provide $7 million in yearly funding up to the year 2015. Li said that more can still be done by institutions and service providers to address mental health issues.

Although Cappon said that there are some support systems in place for students, she recognized that “we could always use more.”

“We could use growth and expansion in our department and I hope to see that coming soon,” she continued.

Cappon recommended that schools take it upon themselves to develop more awareness and provide  support services to students.

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