Friday, Dec 4th, 2009
There were 36 million prescriptions issued for antidepressant drugs in the United Kingdom in 2008, nearly one for every adult in the population, according to numbers obtained by the Liberal Democrat party.
The number is 2.1 million higher than in 2007.
Writing in the Guardian, Ed Halliwell examines the reason for this trend, noting that antidepressant prescriptions have increased more than threefold since the beginning of the 1990s, far outstripping the increase in the percentage of the population classified with a “common mental disorder.” From 1993 to 2007, this number increased by only one million, going from 15.5 percent of the population to 17.6 percent.
Halliwell notes that while national guidelines recommend that psychological therapies are the preferred treatment for mental illness or distress, 75 percent of doctors report having prescribed drugs in cases where they thought that therapy or other non-pharmaceutical treatments would have been more effective. In part, this is because despite government recommendations, psychotherapy treatment remains difficult to find in the United Kingdom, with long waiting lists.
“However, medics also prescribe drugs because that’s what they are trained to do – pills have long been their (and our) default response to depression,” Halliwell writes. “The dominant view of psychiatric illness is that chemical imbalances in the brain are mostly to blame, and that they can be controlled with pharmaceuticals.”
Yet a number of studies have called into question whether antidepressants are really significantly more effective than a placebo, and a much-touted study identifying a “depression gene” was recently discredited by a new analysis.
Halliwell calls for a shift away from a pharmaceutical approach to depression, with a renewed emphasis on more well-proven measures such as “building good relationships, lifelong learning, being kind to others and exercise.”
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
He acknowledges the challenges inherent in this approach.
“As well as an overhaul of services, it means tackling social fragmentation, greed-based economics and the stress created by a speedy, sensationalist culture,” he writes. “And it means starting a mature debate based on understanding rather than fear of the mind, promoting the ways we can look after our psychological as well as our physical health.”
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