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Money Woes Behind UK Jump in Antidepressant Prescriptions?

Money Woes Behind UK Jump in Antidepressant Prescriptions?Prescriptions for antidepressants have jumped nearly 30 percent in England over the past three years, and some believe the rise is attributed to economic stress and consequent mental health problems.

The new data from the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) Information Centre shows antidepressant use alone rose 28 percent between 2007/08 and 2010/11 in England. Just under 34 million prescriptions were dispensed for antidepressants in 2007/08, rising to 43.4 million in 2010/11.

The use of anti-anxiety drugs rose from just over six million to 6.5 million in the same period (an 8 percent jump), while prescriptions for sleeping pills rose 3 percent from around 9.9 million to 10.2 million.

Meanwhile, prescriptions for barbiturates, which promote sleep and reduce anxiety, have dropped 51 percent from just over 22,000 to just under 11,000. Across all these groups of drugs, there was a 20 percent rise in prescription items dispensed between 2007/08 and 2010/11.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of the UK mental health charity Mind, told the UK Press Association there were several factors that could lead to increased prescription figures. “The tough economic times may have contributed to more people experiencing depression,” he said, “but improved awareness around mental health problems may also mean more people are seeking help for their problems, with doctors also getting better at spotting symptoms.

“It’s important to remember that antidepressants can be a lifeline for some people which enable them to manage their mental health problems. It is worrying that antidepressants can be the first port of call for some doctors, despite the fact that ‘watchful waiting’ and talking therapies are recommended as the first line of treatment for mild to moderate depression.”

In addition, Farmer said there was a lack of access to counseling and psychotherapy in some parts of the country “which means doctors are left with little choice but to prescribe medication.” He added: “Last year Mind found that one in five people still have to wait over a year to access talking therapies.”

Still, some experts urge caution in interpreting the NHS figures. In April 2011, NHS data on a 43 percent jump in prescriptions for the SSRI class of antidepressants from 2006-2010 launched a media bandwagon declaring an epidemic of depression and blaming economic woes.

But Dr. Ben Goldacre, a physician, academic and author, noted that the jump was nothing new: a British Medical Journal article in 2009 found in the five-year period from 2000 to 2005 antidepressant prescribing also increased, by 36 percent.

“This isn’t very different from 43 percent, so it feels unlikely that the present increase in prescriptions is due to the recession,” Goldacre wrote in his blog for the Guardian newspaper, “Bad Science.”

As it turned out, closer examination of the data from 2000-2005 found that there was not necessarily more depression being diagnosed, nor that the rise in the overall number of antidepressant prescriptions was due to increasing numbers of patients receiving antidepressants.

“It was almost entirely caused by one thing: a small increase in the small proportion of those patients who received treatment for longer periods of time.

“Numerically, people receiving treatment for long periods make up the biggest chunk of all the prescriptions written, so this small shift bumped up the overall numbers hugely,” Goldacre wrote.

Source: UK Press Association

Money Woes Behind UK Jump in Antidepressant Prescriptions?

David McCracken, MA, MS

APA Reference
McCracken, D. (2018). Money Woes Behind UK Jump in Antidepressant Prescriptions?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 3 Jan 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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