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Antidepressant prescriptions increased by half a million last year

One in six adults in England was prescribed antidepressants last year - nearly half a million more than in 2015 - according to the latest numbers.

The national figures, covering the NHS as a whole, saw a total of 7.3 million people given at least one antidepressant prescription in 2017.

This included more than 70,000 people under the age of 18 and nearly 2,000 children under 11 years old.

The data, obtained by The Times via a freedom of information request, also found that:

  • Those aged over 60 were twice as likely as those in their twenties to be on antidepressants
  • One in five people in towns such as Blackpool and Great Yarmouth was prescribed antidepressants last year, while in London the figure was less than one in 10.

But the RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard 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.'

She continued: ‘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, so that we can continue to provide the best possible mental health care to our patients.’

This comes after GPs were told to avoid prescribing antidepressants to children and adolescents where possible, after research found that use of SSRIs and SNRIs is linked with suicidal behaviour.

Readers' comments (6)

  • This prescribing is so far beyond the evidence as to be on another planet.

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  • Awareness of the increased risk of SSRI/SNRI induced suicidality and completed suicide has not lead to constraint in prescribing these psychoactive drugs for our children.

    It would appear that Black Box warnings do not overcome the prescribers understandable concern to try to alleviate distress, albeit driven perhaps by the restricted and delayed availability of CBT/psychotherapy.

    A recent landmark litigation verdict in Chicago was based on evidence that akathisia related suicide in a man of 57 years was due to his SSRI induced adverse drug reaction.
    Such evidence of SSRI increased suicidality and suicide in older adults is largely denied.


    Were consultation time available to ensure adequate patient-prescriber discussion of the risk-benefit analysis of these drugs, then patients and parents informed consent outcomes might inevitably lead to declining prescription rates.

    Outcomes in treating depression are at least unpredictable. Vulnerability to akathisia varies from patient to patient.

    What is more predictable is the adverse impact of SSRIs on genital neuro-physiology and the ADR of "multi-modal" sexual dysfunction.

    It has been reported that most who take these antidepressants will experience some degree of genital numbing.

    This may occur as quickly as within half an hour of the first dose.

    Amongst the many facets of SSRI induced sexual dysfunction, genital numbing is not a feature of the same condition where the aetiology lies in depression itself.

    Were parents and patients to be aware that the same drugs they are considering for themselves or their child are a component of "chemical castration" advocated for convicted sex offenders on a voluntary basis, would the pressure on prescribers then be alleviated?

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  • Vinci Ho

    It is interesting that there is a geographical variation in antidepressants prescribing in different parts of the country. My gut feeling is a multi-factorial aetiology. How much is it down to demographic factors ?How much is down to relatively less resources in primary care? How much is incorrect diagnosis?
    The pendulum is certainly swung to one extreme at the moment.....

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  • AlanAlmond

    Please stop asking Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard opinion on everything. There’s more to general practice in the UK than this plonker

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  • If we continue to medicalise unhappiness, we cannot complain at the consequent increase in workload.
    We should be encouraging resilience (and yes, I am aware that endogenous depression is a different matter altogether).

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  • Requests for antidepressants are now coomonplace. Patients feel you're not taking their distress/sadness/stress/panic attacks seriously unless you issue a prescription. (cf antibiotics)

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