According to new NHS figures, the number of Anti-depressants prescribed by doctors in Mid Essex has risen over the past one to two years, and almost half a million more adults in England are taking antidepressants than the previous year. Note that the number of prescriptions for children and adolescents has also increased. Leading mental health charity Mind has suggested that the increase in the number of prescriptions for adults across England, by almost half a million more, could be a sign of deteriorating mental health across the country.
Fact – Use of Anti-depressants is on the Rise
Statistics from the Open Prescribing Service show that 647,523 prescriptions for antidepressants were issued in the NHS Mid Essex CCG area in the year to March – a monthly average of 133.9 prescriptions per 1,000 patients. This is up 3 per cent from the previous year when an average of 130.2 were given per 1000 patients, and a 5 per cent increase from 2019-20. Antidepressants are usually prescribed to improve mental health but can also be taken for conditions not directly related to it – such as certain types of chronic pain.
In central Essex, SSRIs were prescribed 356,891 times last year – which equates to 29,741 per month. An estimated 83.4 million antidepressant drug items were prescribed between 2021 and 2022, marking a 5% increase over the previous year.
These statistics are for the number of times a prescription is filled, but do not show the amount of drug dispensed, and multiple prescriptions may be given to the same patient. Mind says the pandemic may have caused a spike in conditions like depression, but many of those sufferers were reluctant to seek help at the time. Spokesman Stephen Buckley said: “Recent data on increased prescription rates suggests that people are again seeking help from their GP. “The increase in referrals may indicate that the prevalence of poor mental health has increased, which seems likely to echo our own research.”
Around 8.3 million patients across England took an antidepressant drug in 2021-22 – a six per cent increase on 7.9 million the previous year. They include 11,878 children aged 10 to 14 and 180,455 youth aged 15 to 19. Almost half a million more adults in England are now taking antidepressants than in previous years, according to NHS figures. Prescriptions for children and adolescents have also increased. From 2021-22, the number of adults will increase by 5% – from 7.9 million in the previous 12 months to 8.3 million. There was also an increase of just over 8% among youth taking the drug – from 10,994 to 11,878 among 10- to 14-year-olds and from 166,922 to 180,455 among 15- to 19-year-olds.
The data also found that women were also twice as likely to be prescribed antidepressants than men. At-home carer Fiona Robertson is 35 and has been taking antidepressants since 2013 to improve her mental health. Fiona told the BBC they were “lifesavers” and “helpful to my recovery”. Fiona says there is still a lot of stigma around taking them and when she looks at social media support groups, people have expressed their resistance to the drug. “People are shamed, made to feel that they are not resilient enough or lazy and want a quick fix,” she says. “I’ve seen people recommend exercising or eating healthily instead of taking these drugs, and I think that might put people off going to the doctor.”
She wants people to feel less afraid to ask for help.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said in November that people with mild depression should first be offered exercise or therapy rather than antidepressants. It also recommends group classes in meditation or behavioral therapy, and in some cases individual counseling sessions.
Alexa Knight, head of policy at the charity Rethink Mental Illness, said: “We should certainly be concerned about the current pressures on people’s mental health caused by the epidemic and the cost-of-living crisis. “But the rising number of antidepressant prescriptions could also be a welcome indicator that people need them when they need them. Then it feels more comfortable to get support.” She adds that it’s important that people are offered different treatments based on the severity of their depression.
After all, the story is the same for “selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors”, the most commonly prescribed antidepressants for mental health in England. They are thought to increase serotonin levels in the brain and are often used to treat depression and anxiety. This is the sixth year in a row that both patients and prescriptions have increased. SSRI prescriptions rose from a monthly average of 69.1 per 1,000 patients in Essex in mid-year to March 2020 to 73.8 in 2022 – a five per cent increase.
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