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Increased antidepressants prescribing shouldn't 'automatically be seen as a bad thing', says RCGP

7.3 million people were prescribed antidepressants last year including 70,000 children, figures show

Ingrid Torjesen

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

One in six adults in England used antidepressants last year — an increase of almost half a million since 2015, an investigation by The Times has found.

NHS figures obtained by The Times revealed that in England 7.3 million people received at least one antidepressant prescription last year, including more than 70,000 people under 18 and almost 2,000 children of primary school age, despite concerns about use of the drugs in children. People over 60 were twice as likely as those in their twenties to be receiving antidepressants. There were also big regional variations, with use of antidepressants in deprived areas such as Blackpool and Great Yarmouth as high as one in five people, whereas in London fewer than one in 10 people were prescribed them.

Responding to the article Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “It’s important that these figures aren’t automatically seen as a bad thing. They may indicate that more patients now feel able to disclose mental health problems, and seek medical care and that negative stigma too often associated with mental health conditions is reducing in society.”

The high use of antidepressants in deprived areas and in the elderly could indicate “a greater lack of alternative therapies in deprived areas, and increasing levels of social isolation and loneliness in older people”, she said.

“More research is needed to properly understand the reasons for both trends, but both clearly need to be addressed.

“While antidepressants are of proven benefit for many patients, no patient wants to be reliant on - and no GP wants to prescribe - any medication long-term, and where possible we will explore alternatives, such as talking therapies and CBT.

“However, there is a severe lack of these services, and choice of therapies, in the community that could benefit our patients with mental health conditions,” she said.

“When GPs do prescribe antidepressants, it will have been after a full and frank discussion with the patient in front of them, based on their unique circumstances, and taking into account the physical, psychological and social factors potentially affecting their health.”

NHS England's GP Forward View pledged for every GP practice to have access to one of 3,000 new mental health therapists.

“We need this, and its other promises - including £2.4bn extra a year for general practice and 5,000 more GPs - to be delivered as a matter of urgency," she said.

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