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.

Start Quote

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

End Quote

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

Whitehall v town hall

David Cameron promised to give local government more power, but local councils continue to shrink, relative to central government.

Read full article

More on This Story


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • 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 61.

    I work for the NHS. In the past 3 years as the Gov cut jobs, wages, pensions, increased pressure and generally treated us like scum, I've seen one colleague sectioned, another off work for a year with severe depression, 2 more off for months with depression, one who became obsessed with talking about her own death and another who has turned to drink. Good people are breaking under the strain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    It's not much wonder when you've got the likes of Duncan Smith, Hoban, McVey & Freud viciously attacking the sick & disabled of this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    As a doctor, I see depression/ anxiety/ OCD (&other illnesses for which these drugs can be prescribed) as illnesses which, like many others, vary from person to person & over time, as well as having overall recognisable characteristics. Like most, they have a constellation of causes, including genetic and environmental. It would be good to see some "analysis" demonstrating this understanding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Depression is a real illness, with a physiological component - it's not "all in the mind". It affects up to 1 in 4 people every year. It has a higher mortality rate than some cancers. Like cancer, treatment can be complex - talking therapies / CBT / relaxation are part of it but anti-depressants are also extremely important. If you're ignorant about this stuff, please visit


Comments 5 of 364



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.