Doctors in Gloucestershire have been prescribing more anti-depressants over the last three years, according to NHS data.
General Practitioners 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.
Figures show that antidepressant prescriptions in Gloucestershire 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 1.9%.
From April 2017 to March 2018, medical services prescribed antidepressants 857,532 times, 134,344 more than three years earlier. 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.
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: “Antidepressants 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 antidepressants, 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 antidepressants prescriptions in Gloucestershire was in line with than the average for England, where it rose by 18% since 2014-15.
South and central Birmingham was the area with the steepest climb – about 38% more over three years. Luton registered the slowest increase, with just 6% more.
Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at mental health charity Mind, said: “We need to understand more about how long people are being prescribed antidepressants for, the impact of any long-term prescribing, and also whether other treatments are offered.
“Antidepressants can be effective for some but aren’t the answer for everyone, especially those with mild depression. They also come with potential adverse side effects, so it’s really important anyone given a prescription is made aware of these and is offered regular reviews of their treatment.
“The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme has helped more people get talking therapies. But in some parts of the country, people are facing long waits. It’s possible that those waiting for therapy could be prescribed antidepressants instead or in the interim. Giving people a choice of treatments is important.”
A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2015 revealed the UK had the fourth-most medicalised population in Europe regarding antidepressants intake, behind only Portugal, Lithuania and Malta.
According to the study, 9% of Britons had taken antidepressants 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, antidepressants were the most prescribed drug in Gloucestershire in 2017. Drugs used in hypertension and heart failure and lipid-regulating drugs were second and third, respectively.