Everyday sadness being “medicalised”

New figures reveal that Britons are taking greater quantities of antidepressants than ever before, leading to claims by experts that too many doctors are “medicalising” everyday sadness.

According to official NHS data, over 53 million prescriptions for antidepressant drugs including Prozac and Seroxat were given out in England last year. This was equivalent to a rise of 24.6 per cent since 2010.

The number of Britons a year taking antidepressants has doubled in 10 years to four million, placing the UK at the seventh highest prescribing rate for antidepressants in the Western world. 

Experts expressed concerns that people in the UK are becoming addicted to antidepressants to help them through anxiety disorders caused by coping with the effects of the recent financial crisis. There is also concern that people are turning to drugs because of the long waiting times to see counsellors in some parts of the country.

NHS guidance says antidepressants should not be the first resort offered by GPs for people with mild to moderate depression, and says that such cases should instead be referred for “talking therapy” such as cognitive behavioural therapy. If drugs are prescribed, it should be in conjunction with counselling.

Doctors warn that many patients now end up taking the drugs for years, and sometimes for the rest of their lives.

Dr Joanna Moncrieff, consultant psychiatrist at North East London NHS Foundation Trust and an author on mental health drugs, said she was concerned that society was becoming “dependent” on medication by viewing their difficult experiences as a disease that is “outside their control”, instead of something that can be dealt with without medication. 

“Being depressed from time to time is a universal human experience…By encouraging people to view their difficulties as a disease, which is outside their control, antidepressants may make people less confident to manage their problems in the long run.”

Dr Matt Muijen, head of mental health at WHO Europe, said: “My worry is that we are medicalising all forms of sadness in the belief that antidepressants are a safe drug that you just prescribe.”