Why one in five Swiss residents now take psychiatric drugs

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The Local - [email protected]
Why one in five Swiss residents now take psychiatric drugs

The Swiss are taking more and more psychiatric drugs and those living in French-speaking parts of the country are more likely to pop pills than elsewhere in Switzerland, a new study has shown. Here are the details.


Women and people living in the French-speaking parts of Switzerland are more likely to take psychiatric drugs, according to a new study published by Switzerland’s largest health insurer Helsana. 

The researchers had not reached a conclusion about why mediation intake was higher among women, but indicated that cultural factors were likely to be behind higher use in francophone Switzerland. 

In total, just over a fifth of Swiss residents now regularly use psychiatric medications, an increase of 7.5 percent over the past five years, while the amount of drugs prescribed by general practitioners - as opposed to psychiatrists - is on the rise.

Health experts are concerned that the increases lead to a rising risk of addiction, particularly where they are prescribed without psychological evaluation and treatment. 

The researchers, however, have been careful not to jump to conclusions, saying the “results should now be examined with a more in-depth analysis”. 

A spokesperson for Helsana told The Local that easier access to medications of this nature - i.e. from GPs as opposed to psychiatrists - was unlikely to be a cause, but that there had been a definitive increase. 

“Access to psychiatric drugs has not changed. General practitioners have always been able to prescribe psychotropic drugs,” she said. 

“In Switzerland more than half of all prescriptions come from general practitioners. We see in our data that more psychotropic drugs are prescribed.”


Who prescribes psychiatric drugs in Switzerland?

In Switzerland as a whole, only 18 percent of psychotropic drugs - i.e. drugs designed to treat mental conditions like anxiety and depression, as well as sleep aids and neuroleptic medication to treat schizophrenia - are prescribed by psychiatrists. 

Just over half are being prescribed by general practitioners, with around 27 percent prescribed by doctors in the ‘other’ category - an increase of four percentage points over the past five years. The other category includes specialists along with hospital and emergency room doctors. 

This is likely explained by an overall increase in emergency room and hospital visits. These increased significantly over the period of the study, with the numbers rising from 1.18 million (2012) to 1.62 million (2017), a rise of 440,000. 

More prevalent in women and in the west

One of the major findings of the report was that residents of French-speaking Switzerland - along with women - are more likely to take psychiatric medications. 

A spokesperson for Helsana told The Local that cultural differences were a major factor in the linguistic divide, along with greater access to doctors in French-speaking Switzerland. 

“It can be assumed that French-speaking Switzerland has a different cultural attitude to drugs,” the spokesperson said. 

“The medical offerings (available), especially the regional physician density, could also be an explanatory variable here.”

Risk of addiction, dependence and a lack of psychiatric support

Pierre Vallon, President of the Society of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, told Swiss daily Blick he was concerned about the findings.  

“This development - i.e. that more and more psychotropic drugs are prescribed by general practitioners and not specialized doctors - is something we are critical of.”

Vallon said psychiatrists should have a greater role in administering medications of this nature, given that they are primarily designed as a transitional step rather than to be used permanently. 

Psychiatrists would spend more time with patients (than general practitioners), only prescribing these medications when necessary “but only in a precise quantity and for a limited period of time”. 

“Psychotropic drugs such as benzodiazepines have a high potential for addiction."

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Anonymous 2019/10/08 12:20
Are women not people? Women not residents?

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