Iceland has the highest rate of antidepressant use in the world—by a long shot

Not a happy place.
Not a happy place.
Image: Reuters/Stoyan Nenov
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Rich, developed countries are consuming an average of 10% more antidepressants than about a decade ago, according to a report released on Nov. 21 from the OECD.

The increase has a lot to do with growing awareness about depression, which in turn has made treating the illness with drugs more socially acceptable. Big spikes in a few standout countries, the report says, may also “be linked to the insecurity created by the financial crisis” (pdf p.102). In Spain and Portugal, consumption rose 23% and 20% between 2007 and 2011, respectively. The UK’s rate doubled between 2000 and 2011.

The highest antidepressant-consuming country in the world? Iceland, where all three of the country’s main banks failed early on in the crisis. At almost twice the OECD average, its antidepressant consumption rose almost 50% over the observed period to 106 doses a day for every 1,000 people. (Some academics think Icelanders may consume more antidepressants because alternative treatments like psychotherapy aren’t as popular.)

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Image: OECD

Ironically, the country is now considered model of recovery in Europe, since its economy is growing faster than others in the region thanks in part to a rebound in fishing and tourism. And yet Icelandic households are still wallowing in debt and shrinking salaries. The country’s current estimated rate of depression—between 15% and 25% of its residents are expected to experience depression at some point—is hardly model behavior.