Leader: There are many ways to fight depression

FOR more than 30 years concern has been expressed over the increasing resort to antidepressant drugs. Now the figures are taking on truly epidemic proportions. According to official data released yesterday, the number of Scots prescribed pills to combat depression has soared to record levels, with more than one in ten people now regularly taking antidepressant drugs.

According to the figures, an estimated 11.3 per cent of all Scots aged 15 and over now take antidepressants on a daily basis. Prescriptions rocketed last year to 4.6 million – up 7.6 per cent over the previous 12 months. Eighteen years ago, the figure was just 1.25 million.

The figures are a blow to the Scottish Government, which set a target in its 2007 manifesto to cut back the number of drugs used to treat depression by 10 per cent. But the figure has still risen for three consecutive years. The target was scrapped in March last year.

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Such figures cannot but raise searching questions about Scotland’s health and its attitude to depressive illness. Are we really, as the figures appear to suggest, becoming an ever more depressed population, unable to get through the day without resort to medication? Is it that doctors are too prescription-prone, finding it easier in busy surgeries to prescribe pills when other approaches may be more efficacious? And are we becoming dangerously dependent on antidepressants – a development which can only work to lower patients’ confidence and self-esteem?

Critics have long called for other therapies – such as counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy – to be tried before GPs resort to drugs. But medical experts claim that a combination of talking therapies and drugs can be more effective than therapies alone. And there are many instances, such as deep-seated mental or psychological conditions, where antidepressants are an important part of life stabilisation.

But for a very large of people, better lifestyle choices, such as healthier food and regular exercise, are known to be highly effective in shaking off bouts of depression. Is it that we have become too lazy to help ourselves, or that we want an instant mood lift and do not have the patience to work with approaches that would more permanently improve our condition? If that is the case, more patients without mental health or exceptional conditions should be encouraged to pursue non-chemical approaches to depression first. And let’s not forget that every prescription is now free, the £30m bill collected by the taxpayer.

Many features of modern life are unhealthy and encourage depression – constant inflation of expectations, the setting of unattainable goals, workplace anxities and increasingly sedentary lifestyles. We need to see a wider discussion of these figures and their implication to encourage a more enlightened approach. We literally can’t afford to let prescrptions rise inexorably.