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GP prescribing of antidepressants increased with financial crisis

The rates of GP prescribing of antidepressants increased during the financial crisis at a faster rate that at any other point in the past 16 years, a new study has found.

The report from the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation compared the number of items dispensed across England in 1998 to the number dispensed in 2014, noting a 165% rise from 15 million to 40 million.

However, despite spanning a 16-year period, almost half of the overall increase in antidepressant prescribing occurred in the four years between the 2008 financial crisis and 2012.

Since the recession hit, the annual rise in prescriptions was around 8.5% per year compared to 6.7% in the years between 1998 and 2008.

In a separate conclusion, the study authors also noted that the overall rise in prescribing across the 16 years could not be linked solely to rising levels of depression but was linked to a change in prescribing patterns by GPs.

The strongest indicator for whether a GP practice was more or less likely to prescribe antidepressants was how much antibiotics it prescribed, which the authors said ‘suggests that some GP practices have a higher propensity to prescribe than others’.

Further, researchers were unable to detect a relationship between the IAPT talking therapies programme and antidepressant prescribing, but they said ‘this may change as more data are collected on IAPT over a longer period’.

The report said: ‘Overall, the number of antidepressants prescribed in England rose by 165% from 14,999,000 in 1998 to 39,722,700 in 2012, an average increase in items prescribed of 7.2%a year. Between 1998 and 2008, antidepressant prescriptions rose by roughly 6.7% a year; however, this increased to 8.5% a year between 2008 and 2012. Therefore, the rate of increase in prescribing of antidepressants was higher in the years from the start of the 2008 recession than in the years beforehand.’

It added: ‘Although there has been a recent increase in the prevalence of depression recorded by GPs, this change cannot fully account for the increased dispensing of antidepressants.’

Adam Roberts, senior research analyst at the Nuffield Trust and a co-author of the report, said: ‘It’s striking that GPs were prescribing an extra 2.7 million antidepressants in 2012, compared to the trend we saw during the years of economic growth.’