The Mental Health Foundation’s Chief Executive, Dr Andrew McCulloch
, talks about new research that shows prescriptions of drugs used to treat mental disorders are on the rise:
"In May, the British Journal of Psychiatry published a report on the rise of prescriptions for antidepressants and antipsychotics in England. The research found that prescriptions of drugs used for mental disorders increased by an average of 6.8% per year between 1998 and 2010, with antidepressant prescriptions increasing by 10% per year and antipsychotics by 5.1%.
It is difficult to pin down any single cause for the increase. We do know that the last three or four years have seen a marked rise in reported depression and anxiety, so it’s fair to suggest that the grim economic situation, increased levels of debt and rising unemployment have been partly responsible.
But there are also other things to take into account: different clinical decisions by GPs, updated National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidance, newer drugs, an increasing population with people living longer. Other possibilities are a better diagnosis of need and a lessening of stigma about going to your GP with mental health issues.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily a problem, so long as GPs are prescribing in line with evidence-based guidelines produced by NICE; and that GPs have other evidence-based options than just prescribing medication, such as psychological therapies or exercise prescriptions. It is also important that patients are offered a choice for their own treatment.
There is no evidence that numbers of people with psychosis or serious mood disorder are significantly increasing, so we do need to keep a close eye on the increasing use of antipsychotic medication. In particular we need to be absolutely sure that antipsychotic drugs are not being used inappropriately, such as for people with dementia in residential care homes, which can have fatal consequences.
The key thing is that people feel able to go to their GPs with mental health problems and that they are given the appropriate treatment – whether it’s medication, talking therapies or lifestyle changes, or a combination.
We know that 25% of common mental health problems are treated at all, so increases in any treatment would be welcome. Also patients being given more choice would help make sure that they get the best treatment for their individual needs.”