Shock rise in number of anti-depressants prescribed in Essex

The number of anti-depressants used in some parts of Essex has risen by nearly 20% Picture: ARCHANT

The number of anti-depressants used in some parts of Essex has risen by nearly 20% Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

The number of anti-depressants prescribed in parts of Essex has risen by nearly a fifth in just three years, according to NHS data.

Figures show that prescriptions issued by the Maldon, Braintree and Chelmsford clinical commissioning group (CCG) went up by 19% from 2014-15 to 2017-18, the latest period with updated data.

Over that period, the number of registered patients in the area hardly varied, rising by 2.8%.

It comes as GPs have called on the Government to increase the funding for psychotherapist services to rely less on these drugs as more people seek help for mental health problems.

From April 2017 to March 2018, medical services prescribed anti-depressants 535,128 times, 84,933 more than three years earlier.

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These figures account for the total number of items prescribed by GPs in the NHS, so several of them could have been issued for the same patient.

A spokesperson for Essex County Council, said: “The increase in prescribed antidepressants could be due to a number of factors including increased awareness amongst practitioners of depression, depression becoming more visible and talked about in mainstream media and society, and therefore more people seeking advice and support.

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“We know levels of depression are very high in some groups, for example older people, but few of these people are known to services or appropriately treated. Essex County Council has therefore undertaken an initiative where social workers are encouraged to screen older clients for depression and refer those on who screen positive.

“Additionally we are aware of the distress caused through depression, anxiety and other mental health issues and will train 1,200 staff in mental health first aid by April 2019.

“We have also started to support similar training in local communities and to build on earlier intervention solutions through services we commission with a variety of providers. Mental Health is one of the four priority areas in the new Essex Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy – agreed by all partners.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said this trend should not be automatically seen as a bad thing and may indicate that “more patients feel able to disclose mental health problems” and seek medical care.

She added: “Anti-depressants are of proven benefit for many patients, but no patient wants to be reliant on any medication long-term, and where possible we will explore alternatives, such as talking therapies. However, there is a severe lack of these services in the community.

“When GPs do prescribe anti-depressants, it will have been after a full and frank discussion with the patients based on their unique circumstance. However, there is also the issue that the standard 10-minute GP consultation is increasingly inadequate to properly deliver care to patients with complex health needs.

“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.”

The increase in anti-depressants prescriptions in Maldon, Braintree and Chelmsford was in line with than the average for England, where it rose by 18% since 2014-15.

A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2015 revealed the UK had the fourth-most medicalised population in Europe regarding anti-depressants intake, behind only Portugal, Lithuania and Malta.

According to the study, 9% of Britons had taken anti-depressants at least once in that year.

An NHS England spokesperson said: “The NHS is significantly improving mental health treatment as part of an ambitious long-term plan, to increase access to treatments like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and other talking therapies, which means clinicians and patients working together to identify the most appropriate care plan.”

The NHS added that, according to several studies, there has been an increase in the number of children and young people presenting with mental health needs, including anxiety and depression, over the last years.

According to NHS data, anti-depressants were the third most prescribed drug in Maldon, Braintree and Chelmsford in 2017, just behind drugs used in hypertension and heart failure and lipid-regulating drugs.

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