Britain is becoming hooked on anti-depressants, a global study suggests today.
Prescription rates have nearly trebled in 15 years, putting the UK fourth among 29 Western nations.
Britons take nearly twice as many of the ‘happy pills’ as counterparts in France, Italy and the Netherlands. Experts last night said patients were demanding a quick fix to avoid feeling down.
Others blamed GPs for fobbing off depressed patients with pills because waiting lists for in-depth treatment were too long.
Prescription rates for anti-depressants have nearly trebled in 15 years, putting the UK fourth among 29 Western nations
The UK rate of consumption for anti-depressants is 94.2 doses a day for every 1,000 inhabitants, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This is up from 37.6 doses in 2000.
The research body’s study said patients were increasingly willing to ask for help, meaning every rich nation had seen a rise in use of drugs such as Prozac.
But it added: ‘There is significant variation in consumption of anti-depressants between countries. Iceland reports the highest level in 2015, twice the OECD average, followed by Australia, Portugal and the United Kingdom.’
Carmine Pariante, a professor of biological psychiatry at King’s College London, said society was becoming less tolerant of emotional pain. ‘If you think of the way death or illness is represented in popular culture, we are trying to protect ourselves as much as possible from negative emotion,’ he added.
Tragedy of mother put on tablets for anxiety
A mother who was prescribed anti-depressants accidentally killed herself with a lethal cocktail of pills.
Katrina Glynn, 34, swallowed a mix of tablets including paracetamol and temazepam in a ‘game of chemical Russian roulette’.
The former healthcare worker suffered from insomnia and severe anxiety and was struggling to cope while her boyfriend, an oil rig worker, was away.
Katrina Glynn swallowed a mix of tablets including paracetamol and temazepam in a ‘game of chemical Russian roulette’
An inquest heard she had been looking forward to his return but was found dead on the sofa at her Bolton home by her niece on August 3 this year.
Tests showed she had morphine-based painkillers, beta-blockers and anti-depressants in her system.
Coroner Tim Brennand ruled out suicide and warned of the dangers of taking too much prescription medication. Recording a conclusion of drug-related death, he said: ‘These were not illicit, or street, drugs, they were prescribed medication.
‘The real danger is in relation to the use of medication that has the potential to kill.
‘Some people may feel they have complete control in understanding their effects but this is a case of someone living in a game of chemical Russian roulette.’
The Bolton inquest was told Miss Glynn had a personality disorder as well as a history of severe anxiety and post-natal depression, for which she took a number of different prescribed medications.
Her mother Janet Glynn, 58, said: ‘She would never do this on purpose, she loved her children so much and she was worried about what would happen to them if she died.’
‘People are asking for anti-depressants in situations where perhaps a few years ago they would just wait.
‘There are people receiving anti-depressants who ten years ago would not have asked for help and these are medications that can turn their lives around, so it’s good that more of them are being used.
‘But there’s also more people asking for anti-depressants as a quick fix because either they’re not used to feeling sad or less able to tolerate it, or we don’t have the resources or social support to get through difficult times.
‘Perhaps the message should be that these situations happen to everybody. We all have losses and there’s an element that brings progress and personal development, but we have to accept that feeling like crying for a few weeks is perfectly normal.’
Studies suggest that 10 per cent of adults are on anti-depressants and 8.3 per cent have a diagnosis of depression.
The Mail’s Good Health section has revealed that more than a million patients are needlessly given anti-depressants or sedatives.
This includes an estimated 800,000 who have been taking anti-depressants for two years, many of whom were wrongly prescribed them.
James Davies, an expert in mental health at the University of Roehampton, claimed patients were given the drugs because waiting lists for therapy were too long.
He dismissed as a ‘smokescreen’ the argument that pill use was rising because people were more willing to admit to mental health problems.
‘More people are taking anti-depressants because there is poor provision for alternatives,’ he said.
‘Waiting lists are still very long for psychological therapies, so doctors reach for their prescription pads instead. With one in ten people having to wait over a year to access therapy on the NHS – and the rest often waiting for many months – drugs become the only alternative.’
Dr Davies believes many are left on the drugs for years because doctors mistake the effects of withdrawal for depression, so patients are put back on them.
He added: ‘Prescribing is also high because we are distributing them on a massive scale to people who, according to NICE guidelines, should not be receiving anti-depressants.
‘For example, according to the last comprehensive study, between one quarter and one half of people are being prescribed them for minimal depression.’
Professor Wendy Burn, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, dismissed this criticism. ‘Anti-depressants are not happy pills,’ she said. ‘They enable people to cope. They can give people strength to go to work, to see friends, to engage in therapy that will get them better.
‘Studies show that taking anti-depressants reduces suicidal feelings in the severely depressed.
‘Rising anti-depressant prescriptions means more people getting the help they need. As a doctor specialising in mental health, I know they are an effective and evidence-based medication for moderate to severe episodes of depression.’
Britons take nearly twice as many of the ‘happy pills’ as counterparts in France, Italy and the Netherlands. Experts last night said patients were demanding a quick fix to avoid feeling down
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, who chairs the Royal College of GPs, said the rise in anti-depressant use could be explained by patients being ‘less inhibited to seek medical help’.
But she added: ‘It also shines a light on the lack of alternative treatments in the community, such as talking therapies and CBT that we know can also greatly benefit our patients.’
There is growing concern among experts that doctors are ‘over-medicalising’ patients and prescribing them drugs too easily. NHS figures this month showed that half of adults had taken a prescription drug during the past week.
In 2000, the UK was 7th in the table of anti-depressant use.
65million prescriptions every year
The NHS handed out 64.7million prescriptions for anti-depressants in 2016 – twice as many as in 2006 – at a cost of £266.5million.
One in ten adults is on some form of anti-depressant. They work by increasing levels of ‘feel-good’ chemicals in our brain, known as neurotransmitters, including serotonin.
A course of anti-depressants usually lasts six months but some patients may be told to take them indefinitely. Side-effects include feeling agitated or anxious, nausea, indigestion, headaches and low sex drive.
A rare but deadly side effect is ‘serotonin syndrome’, which causes seizures, an irregular heart beat and unconsciousness.
Most patients benefit from anti-depressants to some extent, but they are not generally as effective for mild depression. There are four main different types of anti-depressant.
The most common are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, including Prozac.
There are also serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors such as Cymbalta; noradrenaline and specific serotonergic anti-depressants including Zispin; and tricyclic anti-depressants such as Tryptizol.