Is England a nation on anti-depressants?

Blackpool Blackpool - where approximately one adult in six is prescribed anti-depressants

Each month in Blackpool, one adult in every six picks up a prescription for anti-depressants.

A seaside resort promising fun and excitement to visitors, emerges as the place in England with the highest proportion of its population regularly taking medication for depression and anxiety.

Analysis of prescribing statistics reveals a number of English towns and cities where approximately one adult in six is now prescribed anti-depressants in an average month. They include Barnsley, Redcar, Durham, Middlesbrough, Salford and Sunderland.

The Health and Social Care Information Centre this week published data showing that more than 50 million prescriptions for anti-depressants were issued last year, the highest ever number and 7.5% up on the year before.

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In Lincolnshire some 75,500 anti-depressant prescriptions are issued each month”

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One is tempted to ask why we are seeing such huge and rising numbers of people regularly taking anti-depressants when GPs are advised to prescribe them only for more seriously ill patients.

In some places the number of patients prescribed anti-depressants exceeds the number of people in that area estimated to suffer from depression and anxiety by the NHS England's Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (PMS).

For example, in Lincolnshire some 75,500 anti-depressant prescriptions are issued each month and yet the PMS suggests there are only 58,700 people suffering from depression and anxiety in the area.

It is a similar story in County Durham where there were 63,700 prescriptions and 55,300 people identified by the survey.

Doctor writing out a prescription London boroughs have fewest prescriptions per head of adult population

Official guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) urges doctors in England to treat patients suffering mild to moderate depression with psychological therapies. Medication is recommended for more severe depressive illness in conjunction with therapy.

However, access to psychological therapies is patchy. Figures published this week show that in Swindon, for example, 25% of people estimated to be suffering from depression or anxiety received therapy treatment last year. In Hillingdon in north London, it was under 2%.

In a statement, the Chair of Hillingdon Clinical Commissioning Group, Dr Ian Goodman, said: "We recognise that the number of patients in Hillingdon with anxiety or depression who are getting treatment through the IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) service is low."

"Our patients who do get IAPT treatment have high recovery rates, so we are committed to improving access so that more patients can receive this high quality care."

What are they doing right in Swindon? The commissioning group there says the results "demonstrate the outstanding achievements" of their psychology team. "One of the reasons this service is different is that it runs and open access opt-in service, which is available to anyone and has at least one therapist based in each GP practice."

While communities, largely in the north of England, have very high levels of anti-depressant prescribing, the areas with the lowest rates are in London. The 20 places with fewest prescriptions per head of adult population are all boroughs in the capital.

Graph showing ratio of adults receiving anti-depressant prescriptions (monthly)

In Brent, for example, anti-depressants are issued to one adult in 23 each month. In Kensington & Chelsea and Redbridge it is one in 21. This means that the prescribing rate even in some of the poorest in London is less than a third what it is in Blackpool.

The proportion of estimated depression and anxiety sufferers prescribed anti-depressants is lowest in London too. While in Blackpool the figure is 92%, in Kensington & Chelsea it is 23% and in Brent 28%.

However, London boroughs do not have particularly impressive figures for getting patients with depression or anxiety into therapy. Hillingdon and Croydon have among the worst figures in England.

Indeed, there is little correlation between anti-depressant prescribing and access to psychological therapies. While in Blackpool (the highest prescribing rate) 7.3% of those estimated to need therapy treatment are receiving it, in Brent (the lowest prescribing rate) the figures is 7.4%.

This suggests it is not as simple as doctors offering tablets because therapy is not available.

Trust Highest prescription rate*


Blackpool Primary Care Trust (PCT)


Barnsley PCT


Redcar and Cleveland PCT


County Durham PCT


Middlesborough PCT


Salford PCT


Sunderland Teaching PCT


Knowlsey PCT


Gateshead PCT


North Tyneside PCT


Trust Lowest prescription rate*


Waltham Forest PCT


Southwark PCT


Newham PCT


Hammersmith & Fulham PCT


Ealing PCT


City & Hackney Teaching PCT


Harrow PCT


Redbridge PCT


Kensington & Chelsea PCT


Brent Teaching PCT


Trust % in therapy*


Hillingdon PCT


Croydon PCT


Stockton on Tees Teaching PCT


Heywood Middleton & Rochdale PCT


Luton PCT


Trust % in therapy*


Walsall Teaching PCT


Northumberland Care Trust


North Lincolnshire PCT


Wiltshire PCT


Swindon PCT


All data sourced to HSCIC

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    42.Paul - "....Is consistency in providing a message to the nation regarding its mood important to the BBC?......"

    No, & rightly so - the raison d'etra of a NEWS organisation has escaped you...

    ...the Beeb (news wise) have no agenda, no message to spread etc...

    ...they just report the news & if what people say appears to contradict each other say then that's not the BBC's fault...

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    I have worked with mental health suffers for years, witnessing the effects of these drugs.
    My personal view is medication has it's place and can tide people over in a crisis;but, generally I'd avoid them.
    I feel these drugs are prescribed too easily,because it's relatively cheap and "contains" people, where what is needed is cognitive therapy, meaningful work/activity and loving relationships.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    This year the BBC has run the following articles:
    - The UK is now a more peaceful place.
    - The UK is now a happier place than last year.
    - The NHS is in total crisis.
    - The jobless generation.

    Is consistency in providing a message to the nation regarding its mood important to the BBC? Or is this just junk journalism wishing to capture the fleeting attention of the public for ratings?

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Hmmm, how about cross-referencing this survey with the one a few months back that listed the "happiest" places to live in the UK? It might make for some uncomfortable reading...

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    The map is fascinating. It appears Yorkshire is less depressed than Lancashire or Lincolnshire, and Cornwall more depressed than Devon and Dorset. I wonder why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    This contrast nicely with the declaration that we are all slightly happier or maybe it's because of the pills.
    Must be having some effect as within the same week we are told we are struggling with debt more.
    Makes you question surveys, doesn't it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    You are cheesed of in life if you let your body compare itself with the outside.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    31.Linense "Probably why the ONS stats showed people were happier"

    Yeah, well, the ONS is just a quango who are probably told by the government to put positive spin on things to help build public confidence and get them spending again, despite the fact the government is detracting from public confidence with its anti-social policies and is limiting peoples' spending power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Regardles of whether or not absolute poverty exists in the UK (& to what extent if it does) the reality is that everyone considers their own lot in life by looking at those "higher" up the "pecking" order....

    .....the wider the gap between poorest & richest the more depression.....

    ....the more likely social unrest will kick in sooner or later.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Just because they are being prescribed doesn't mean they are being taken...... how many people blag sicknotes from their GP for stress/anxiety/depression for time off work?

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Is it any wonder.

    One of the most densely populated countries on the planet.

    Living within 4 walls or 1 or 2 rooms only, with difficult access to open spaces 4 many.

    The meanness of the human spirit 4 many.

    The insanity we have created !!!!

    Finite resources diminishing.

    It is any wonder .....

    It's not rocket science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    How's this for a thought: either more of us are becoming clinically depressed and anxious or - the definition of both have been widened, hence the greater number of diagnoses, prescriptions etc..

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Doesnt surprise me people get fed up. We spend our lives rushing around serving the interests of a small minority.

    Just work less and play more!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Probably why the ONS stats showed people were happier.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Being on anti-depressants is a remedy to the sympton of being depressed. I'm more concerned with the cause of the sympton rather than the sympton itself and that cause, for the vast majority of people in the UK, is coming from central government who are intent on making peoples' lives a misery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    A few day's ago we were a happy nation, lifted by the Olympics etc. Perhaps the initial image of yellow discs with smiley faces was symbolic of an assisted happiness?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I think you might find that the highest levels of prescribing are based in these cities for ANY drug and that this has been the case since at least the 1980s.

    It is a symptom of the GP behaviour as much as it is that of the population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Nowt to do with the fact that half the population are worried about bills and debt then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Good news for pharmaceutical shareholders!

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Hard to believe, frankly. More likely is that there are still some GP's out there prescribing drugs on demand, just to get troublesome patients out of their surgery.


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