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Italians are increasingly stressed: the use of anxiolytics grew 8% in one year

July 4, 2018

In Italy, the consumption of psychotropic drugs used to combat anxiety, neurosis, panic attacks and insomnia increased by almost 8% in a year. Italians, in short, are increasingly anxious. It emerges from a study on the consumption of psychotropic drugs in Italy published on the portal of the Italian Medicines Agency (Aifa). “The report states that “The number of Italians who have been prescribed an antidepressant at least once a year is stable at around 6% of the population. We talk about the increase in the use of psychotropic drugs with Dr. Agnese Rossi, psychotherapist at Humanitas.


An upward trend

Through the analysis of data on pharmaceutical prescriptions reimbursed by the National Health Service, Aifa estimates that about 3.6 million Italians took them in 2017. On the other hand, benzodiazepine consumption is on the increase, a class that includes anxiolytics, hypnotics and sedatives: in 2017 there was a consumption of about 50 daily doses per thousand inhabitants, with an increase of about 8% compared to the previous year, a concerning number that represents a response to increased levels of stress and psychological discomfort in everyday life. According to experts, the burden is growing loneliness, an uncertain future and an increasing inability to manage frustrations.


The effect of stress on the heart: a gender issue

Women’s hearts may respond to mental stress differently than men do. The research team at Emory University in Atlanta (USA) saw that stress in women resulted in a constriction of the small vessels contained within the heart muscle, which could reduce the flow of blood to the heart. However, scientists have not established the extent to which this can lead to an increase in adverse cardiovascular events. In particular, the researchers focused on stress-induced ischemic heart disease. The study involved 678 patients with coronary artery disease with, on average, 63 years of age. While making a public speech, parameters such as blood pressure and heart rate were measured. Researchers also detected images of their heart and measured the constriction of small vessels that carry blood to the heart muscle. From the analysis of the data it was seen that women and men had a different reactivity to the mechanisms associated with stress-induced ischemia. In women there was vasoconstriction of the small vessels, without the heart increasing the workload to circulate the blood. In men, however, it was the opposite. In male participants, the reduction in blood supply to the heart was determined by an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, two elements that increased the workload of the heart.

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The psychotherapist’s opinion

“To understand the increase in the use of psychotropic drugs, – commented Rossi – it is essential to read some cultural aspects of our society. There is a strong tendency to medicalize every problematic aspect of our daily life, looking for an immediate response to any anxious or depressive symptom. Sometimes, however, these symptoms are not only psychopathologies to be anesthetized immediately with a drug, which can obviously give us a great deal of help, but it would also be important to listen to what our body tells us through these signals.


When, for example, we experience bereavement, a family member’s illness, loss of job or a major change such as a move, with experiences of anxiety and agitation or low mood, we could immediately swallow a drug and clear away any symptoms. If, however, they are not markedly pathological and clinically important situations, it is useful to take a subjective time to elaborate these emotional experiences and gradually integrate these events into our daily lives.


“Our culture of “all at once” – concluded Rossi – sometimes does not help us to prevent these anxious and or depressive disorders, when it imposes excessive working times, requires high performance, unrealistic expectations, puts us in competition instead of encouraging mutual collaboration, hammers us with consumer messages and imposes frantic rhythms that take away the human sense from our time; time that is reduced to pure chronological time to be filled with a dense series of commitments, otherwise we feel empty and alone. All this sometimes deprives us of the possibility to build deep emotional relationships (how many times we say: ‘I don’t have time!’), which can be an excellent prevention and sometimes an effective therapy for these disorders. Finally, we should not underestimate a psychotherapeutic path, often parallel to a pharmacotherapy, which certainly requires more time and effort, but it helps us to fully understand who we are and to truly respond with genuineness to our needs and desires”.

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