Antidepressant prescribing increased over the course of the pandemic but the overall pattern of rising use seen in recent years may have slowed, figures suggest.
Data from the NHS Business Services Authority for March 2020 to March 2021 showed 79.4 million antidepressant drug items prescribed to 7.87 million patients.
It is the fifth consecutive increase in both the number of prescription items dispensed and number of patients taking antidepressants, the figures show.
But the rates of increase between 2019/20 and 2020/21 were less than previous years, the annual report on mental health drugs showed.
The rate of antidepressants prescribed to children aged 17 or younger was at its lowest point since 2015/16, the data suggests.
There does remain a stark divide between prescribing of antidepressants in the most and least deprived areas, the analysis shows.
In all, 1.21 million patients were prescribed antidepressant medication in the most deprived areas – 119% higher than the 550,000 patients using the drugs in the least deprived practices.
The figures which cover the year since the pandemic began also showed were 363,000 fewer drugs for dementia issued than would have been expected based on historical trends.
The significant drop in numbers follow four consecutive years of increase in prescribing of dementia medications, the NHSBSA said.
Data also show continuing decline in prescription of hypnotics and anxiolytics with a 2.27% decrease from 14.6 million to 14.3 million items and a 10.3% decrease over the past five years.The BMA has previously raised concerns that falling rates of medicines prescribed during lockdown could be related to patients avoiding leaving their house to seek out the medication they need.