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Byline: ED JAMES

DOCTORS in Wales last year gave out more prescriptions for depression than there are people in the nation.

Experts fear the current economic climate may be tipping people into a spiral of depression, while mental health campaigners warned of the dangers of GP over-prescribing.

A total 3.5 million prescriptions were issued in Wales in 2010, in a population of three million people.

Meanwhile in Scotland, 4.3 million prescriptions were issued among a population of 5.2 million. In England the most recent figures for 2009 show there were 39.1 million prescriptions compared to a 52.5 million population. Wales has also experienced the biggest increase in prescriptions in the UK, up nearly 70% in eight years, compared to 61% in England and 43% in Scotland.

Charlotte Jones, deputy chair of the General Practitioners Committee Wales of the British Medical Association said: "More people are coming in with anxiety, depression, stress and there are lots of factors contributing to that, jobs, worries about financing their home, worries about long-term prospects."

Recently research by the Family Doctor Association found four out of five GPs routinely prescribe drugs - including anti-depressants, sleeping pills and painkillers - to patients they believe are addicted to them.

Alun Thomas, deputy chief executive of mental health charity Hafal, said the "medicalisation" of depression may be part of the problem, with patients asking for a prescription rather than seeking support.

"There's greater expectation on people through social media, work-life balance. As a society we've fallen into a trap of 'think something is depression' rather than 'this is life circumstances'.

"Quite often the problem with [people taking anti-depressants] is that people will take those anti-depressants and feel better but when it comes time to come off them the problem is still there."

Charities say the high levels of drug treatment may be also be due to a lack of alternative therapies.

Alexandra Macmillan, public affairs manager at Gofal, said: "People can wait up to a year or more to access alternatives.

It's important we get used to mental health in a holistic way. For some people it could be about medication - we're not against medication - for others [it could be about] talking therapy, it works very well for many people.

Mr Thomas said GPs the charity has spoken to are under huge time pressure.

He said: "Medication is a quick cheap solution. They want the ability to provide help for the client but feel an immense pressure to get people treated and feeling better.

"Over the last 10 years I know we've been talking to GPs saying we're not getting enough time with patients to find out what the problem is."

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "GPs use their clinical judgement in determining what course of treatment to prescribe to their patients, based on their individual needs and medical history.

"Depression can be linked to the presence of chronic physical illness and, in some areas of Wales, there is a high burden of such conditions.

"There are clear guidelines in place for the use of anti-depressant drugs and GPs are encouraged to consider alternatives to medication, including referral to a counsellor which is often be provided within the GP practice."

"Other options that can be offered for mild to moderate depression include talking therapies, exercise, and self-help books as part of the Book Prescription Wales Scheme."


Some 3.5 million prescriptions for anti-depressants were written in Wales last year
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 1, 2011
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