Lothians see big rise in use of anti- depressants

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MORE people than ever are being given anti-depressants in the Lothians, with almost 600,000 pills handed out last year.

That is a 10 per cent rise on 2009, figures have shown, and has prompted grave concern from mental health experts and politicians fearing the effects of the recession on residents’ mental health.

It is estimated around 10 per cent of the population is being treated for depression or anxiety, with GPs increasingly prescribing medication.

This is despite a Scottish Government pledge that the rise in prescriptions would stop, and instead methods such as exercise and counselling would be suggested, with subsequent support given. That has not happened.

Shane Buckeridge, lead adviser in Scotland for the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, said: “On one level the increase could be interpreted as a positive move in that GPs may well be better at identifying depression in patients which had previously gone undiagnosed.

“But it may also highlight the increasing pressure on GPs to manage the increasing expectations of patients with no similar increase in resources for talking therapies such as counselling.

“As counsellors, our concern is that the government has chosen very narrow criteria as to what constitutes evidence-based psychological therapies which are focused on rigorous scientific research methods rather than treating the whole person in the context of their life.”

Main criticisms surrounding anti-depressant medication is that the patient can become dependent on them, meaning an absolute cure is unrealistic, with the need for pills even intensifying over time.

However, it has been argued that they are necessary in many cases, especially if a patient is displaying more serious symptoms than just mild depression.

A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association in Edinburgh said: “Talking therapies are not necessarily an alternative for many patients. There are significant waiting times for talking therapies and more needs to be done to improve access.”

Despite the rise, which is five times that of 20 years ago, health chiefs have found cheaper ways to circulate the drugs.

Last year, the total spend was little more than £4 million, a saving of £200,000 from 2009.

Prof Alex McMahon, acting director of strategic planning and modernisation for NHS Lothian, said: “Prescribing anti-depressants is only one approach to treating depression.

“NHS Lothian is committed to a range of options as part of our Joint Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy. Alternative treatments include exercise referral and stress control classes. There is greater awareness of mental health issues, this may account for an increase in the number of patients seeking effective treatment.”

amorris@edinburghnews.com