Fears over anti-depressant use as prescriptions rocket

THE number of anti-depressants prescribed across the Lothians has increased by tens of thousands in the past year.

More than 530,000 pills were given out to people suffering from anxiety and depression, a ten per cent increase from 2009, at a cost of more than 6 million.

It has prompted concern at the growing curse of mild-to-moderate mental illness, but also criticism that GPs are prescribing tablets too easily.

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NHS Lothian said despite the hike it was working to find alternative solutions.

Mental health campaigners have long lobbied for medication to be avoided where possible, and for treatments such as exposure to the outdoors, exercise and counselling to be a first port of call.

Sheila Peaston is the co-ordinator for Midlothian support group Pink Ladies, which helps women come out of isolation to aid their recovery.

The organisation is highly thought of by psychiatric medics, however, it only has enough money to last until the summer.

She said: "We would only need 50,000 to help 75 women for a year, so it can be frustrating to see the money going in to prescribing anti-depressants.

"A lot of the problems we hear about are feelings of isolation and loneliness. Anti-depressants don't solve that."

The issue among experts is not that the drugs don't work, but that people can become dependent on them when they would never have been required had other options been explored.

Other critics say the tablets, while improving moods, only result in patients having a "one-level" feeling at all times.

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The Liberal Democrats' health spokesman Ross Finnie said: "Drugs are the not the only solution. Counselling and exercise are also good options. We need to be confident that doctors have the time to explore alternatives to anti-depressants before reaching for the prescription pad. We also need assurances that there are adequate mental health services in the community."

The rise in prescriptions is complemented by more people being diagnosed with depression. It is estimated around 9.5 per cent of Lothians residents have been diagnosed.

Dr Alison McCallum, director of public health and health policy for NHS Lothian, said: "Doctors in Lothian will only prescribe anti-depressant drugs following individual assessment and diagnosis of patients.

"Prescribing anti-depressants is only one approach to treating depression and we are committed to a whole range of options as part of Lothian's Joint Mental Health and Well Being Strategy.

"This strategy encourages the consideration of treatment options including exercise referral and psychological therapies."