Is there a drug problem in mental health?
The NHS prescribed a record number of antidepressants 2017, fuelling an upward trend that has seen the number of pills given to patients more than double over the last decade.
This has ignited fierce debate over whether the rise in antidepressants show doctors are either, too quick to hand out drugs or if it means more people are getting the help they need to tackle their anxiety and depression.
Leading doctors have defended the sharp increase in the use of drugs. Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Royal College of GPs said, “while at face value the rise might seem alarming, it could also be indicative of better identification and diagnosis of mental health conditions across healthcare, and reducing stigma associated with mental health in society, leading to more people with mental health conditions seeking medical assistance.”
Antidepressants can and do save lives, when they work. At their worst, however, they foster a dependency in some patients, have potentially harmful side-effects and do not always relieve symptoms.
This is a particular cause for concern for young people. Almost 65,000 young people in England, including children as young as six, are being prescribed antidepressants by their doctors, despite the fact a major study published in the Lancet last year concluded that the majority of antidepressants do not work on children and teenagers, and that prescribing them could do more harm than good.
Professor David Healy, a leading expert in psychiatric medication, told a global health conference in Aberdeen that - in 29 paediatric clinical trials of antidepressants - every single one failed to produce an obvious benefit.
He said: "In every single one of these trials it has produced more harms than benefits in the sense that it has made children become suicidal who wouldn't have become suicidal if they hadn't been put on these drugs."
Statistics show 45% of under-18s being treated for mental health problems were prescribed fluoxetine, which is usually sold under the trade name Prozac, because it is the only drug recommended for under 18s as it is the only antidepressant for which clinical trial evidence shows the benefits outweigh the risks. Even then it should not be prescribed until psychological therapy has been tried for three months and not worked.
While the effectiveness and value of antidepressants are hotly debated the fact is they are not and were never meant to be long-term medication. Dr Marc Bush, a senior policy adviser at the charity Young Minds, stated “antidepressants have a role to play, but are not the whole solution.”
Herein lies the problem, prescription drugs are a sticking plaster until other help such as talking therapy, arrives, if it does at all. All these statistics reveal doctors may be overprescribing strong medication because of stretched and underfunded mental health services.
What else can they do when waiting lists for psychotherapy are so long?
The British Medical Association (BMA) warned that thousands of patients are waiting more than six months for access to psychological “talking therapies” to help them cope with negative thoughts and feelings.
However they admit the true extent of the waiting time problem is likely to be much larger. The BMA investigation found that just 1 in 10 local NHS clinical commissioning groups and just over half of mental health trusts keep track of how long these patients are waiting.
The problem we have is not so much a dependency on drugs, but rather an incessant indifference and lack of investment from a government who does little to look after its nations’ wellbeing . Now we are simply seeing the consequences of this neglect.
I would love to know your thoughts on prescription drugs. Have they helped you or have you experienced problems?
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