Antidepressant prescriptions have doubled for the over 65s in the last twenty years even though the number who identify as depressed has remained static
Historically, the greatest levels of awareness and concern relating to potential oversubscribing of antidepressants has related to young people, but it is clear the problem is more widespread as shocking new research shows that antidepressant prescriptions have doubled for the over 65s.
In an article earlier this year in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) there were almost contradictory responses to an article about the general increase of prescriptions for antidepressants over the last 10 years.
Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said:
“Prescribing is a core skill for GPs, and we will only prescribe drugs to a patient after a full and frank discussion with them, considering their unique circumstances, and if we genuinely believe they will be of benefit.
“Antidepressants are no different, and it’s important that increasing numbers of antidepressant prescriptions are not automatically seen as a bad thing, as research has shown they can be very effective when used appropriately.”
She suggested that the rise in prescriptions could relate to an increased awareness of mental health conditions in society and patients feeling more comfortable in speaking to their GPs about their issues.
But an NHS England spokesman was quoted as responding to the statists in a totally different manner, citing a new approach to mental health conditions:
“While antidepressants play an important role for some patients, an attitude of ‘a pill for every ill’ can mean that some people end up taking drugs they don’t need to, and taxpayer funding is spent on avoidable prescriptions.
“This is why the NHS is rolling out alternatives to drugs, like 1000 social prescribing link workers giving people care and advice tailored to their condition and, for mental health problems, the world’s most ambitious programme of talking therapies which can resolve common conditions like depression and anxiety.”
It would appear from these comments that the NHS at policy level does want to adopt a more holistic approach to mental illness, but GPs are defensive and reluctant to change their existing antidepressant subscribing habits. (see August 2020 update with video at the end of this article)
The recent published research relating to over 65s was led by the UEA (University of East Anglia) in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, the University of Newcastle and the University of Nottingham, with researchers interviewing more than 15,000 people in England and Wales in that age group.
The findings are based on the Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies, conducted at two time points – between 1991 and 1993, and between 2008 and 2011. The full report can be found in The British Journal of Psychiatry and in-depth responses from the leading researches can be found here:
Whilst it is of course acknowledged that it is sometimes necessary to prescribe antidepressants, Healthy Life Essex has always been an advocate for looking at alternative routes to support people of all ages with depression.
From personal experience, we know that something as simple as a walk in the woods can sometimes have an almost magically reduce levels of stress and depression.
Gardening, particularly community-managed garden projects such as Growing Together in Westcliff, Shoebury, Thundersley and Rochford, demonstrate how gardening can be used as an extremely effective social prescribing option.
Kelly Swain tells a wonderful, personal story of her long journey with mental health issues and how she has overcome not only mental health and physical challenges through holistic therapies and a positive mental approach.
Counsellor Janet Hitchcock asks if medication should be a first consideration or a last resort. She would like to see qualified counsellors available in every GP surgery.
And in February this year we featured the NHS STOMP campaign – Stopping the over-medication of people with a learning disability, autism or both.
In November 2018, the then Chancellor Philip Hammond announced as additional £20bn support for the NHS over the next 5 years. A few days later, Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, triggered a row by calling for people to take more responsibility for their health and wellbeing by making healthier lifestyle choices.
As we stressed in our article The NHS – our National Illness Service, we hope that windfall will be used wisely and far more will be done by the NHS to encourage people to make appropriate lifestyle changes; to ensure social prescribing is adopted in GP surgeries across the country; and to educate GPs and their medical and non-medical support staff accordingly.
EDITOR’S UPDATE AUGUST 2020
We are delighted that Social Prescribers/Link Workers are being introduced in GP surgeries across the country. This short NHS video features people who are actively involved in social prescribing talking about the difference the process can make to people, communities and systems.