An exclusive investigation by KentOnline has revealed the number of antidepressants being prescribed to people in Kent over the last seven years has risen dramatically.
Over 60% more drugs are now being dispensed than in 2007/2008.
But it is still not clear why more and more people in Kent are needing the drugs just to get them through the day.
More anti-depressants are being prescribed in Kent. Stock image
A Freedom of Information request by KentOnline shows just over one million (1,032,000) were dispensed across the county in 2007/08.
However, that figure jumped in 2013/14 to 1,701,100 – a rise of 669,100 or 64%.
According to the NHS, antidepressants work by increasing levels of a group of chemicals inthe brain called neurotransmitters which can improve mood and emotion.
Mental health charities including Mind say they aren’t surprised by the figures as more people are coming to them taking the medicine.
Dan Carter is a support worker at Maidstone Mind. He said: “Ninety percent of the people who come here or we speak to over the phone have been to their GP and have been prescribed medication.[embedded content]
Video: GPs are often torn between prescribing antidepressants and talk therapies
“I strongly believe the services we roll alongside their medication will help them a lot betterthan just medication alone.
“The NHS is under a lot of strain in terms of how many people they are seeing and I do thinklots more people are on medication.
Strood GP Dr Julian Spinks said more and more people have been coming to him over the last 10 years with mental health problems, leading to him prescribing more antidepressants.
He said: “The difficulty for a doctor is that when you see someone who is clearly distressed, offering treatment which is only available in several months’ time is not really appropriate.
“So you end up prescribing them medication when you really don’t want too.
“People with moderate or severe depression have a change in the chemistry of the brain.
“The chemistry subtly alters, which means they have this deep unhappiness and the other physical symptoms associated with depression.
“Antidepressants move the chemistry away back towards an undepressed state.
“The problem is that if you just prescribe them and not deal with the underlying cause then the danger is, as you take the medication away again, they’ll start to slip back.
“That’s why it’s so important we don’t just look at the chemistry, we look at the psychology and give them the talk therapy.”
Dr Spinks claims access to mental health services have been neglected over the last 15-20 years, saying: “If we can improve access then we can give people more appropriate treatment.
January is one of the worst months for signs of depression
“We need to give the same priority to mental health as we do to physical health.
“We need to establish more services and be able to respond to people much quicker.
“It’s only when we do that do we’ll be able to treat them correctly.”
Figures from The Office for National Statistics show that one in four British adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any one year, and one in six experiences this at any given time.
He also explains that the recession may have played a part in the rise.
He said: “Research suggests that when unemployment goes up the number of antidepressant prescriptions goes up too.
Rebecca Walton has had treatment in Kent
“It might be down to better diagnosis, but part of it might be down to the economy.”
That’s something which Angus Gartshore, the director of the community recovery service line at the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust agrees with.
He said: “Since 2008, there has been a steady increase in people being referred to mental
“But there’s more awareness now so people want the help. I think in previous generations, people would have tried to go on and sort it out themselves.”
KMPT provides mental health, learning disability, substance misuse and other specialist services for people across the county.
Mr Gartshore adds: “In secondary mental health care, we think it’s good that people are started on medication but we don’t view it as a long term solution.
“We try and view antidepressants as a bit of a help to try and get people to a stage where they can work out what’s going on with them.”
He also admits the demand on mental health services is greater than it’s ever been.
He said: “Mental health services are regarded as kind of ‘Cinderella services’ of the health services. Demand is increasing and yes, we’d all love more money, but we work with what we’ve got”.
Daniel Huckfield,41, from Edenbridge, has been on anti-depressants since June 2013 after he tried to commit suicide.
He says without medication he might have tried again.
“Anti-depressants have a part to play, but for me it’s about being able to talk to people, and have a reason to get up in the morning.
“It’s all those things which really make a difference.
Daniel Huckfield has been prescribed anti-depressants
“Medication keeps me level. It doesn’t make me feel happy necessarily but it helps get me through the day.
Daniel is now involved with several projects at the charity Mind in Sevenoaks, where he also volunteers and has counselling.
“That’s the sort of thing that helps me to feel better.
“There is a degree of willingness from GPs to offer out prescriptions for anti-depressants as an easy solution maybe.
“However, if you’ve got a good GP and the right support, the medication is handed out for good reasons.”
Rebecca Walton, 23, from Tonbridge was first diagnosed with agoraphobia and borderline personality disorder when she was 15 and was put on antidepressants by her GP.
Two years ago she started to chase up getting therapy, but was only given this when she turned 23 due to waiting lists.
“I stopped using antidepressants last year but I’d been on and off different types since I was 15.
“ The side effects for all of them have all been very different, some have made me more tired, some have made me put on weight, some put my moods all over the place.
“They are different for everyone but they didn’t make me feel any better at all.
“I think there needs to be more of a focus on perhaps medication and therapy at the same time, which has proven to be more effective than just medication.
“I think that’s where doctors are a little bit stuck because you want to help someone but at the same time you know what the waiting lists are like.
“I’m wondering if it was nipped in the bud sooner, and I didn’t have to wait so long, I would bewell on my way to recovery now.
The figures are released today – on Blue Monday – which is known to be the most depressing day of the year.
Dr Julian Spinks at his Strood surgery
It is worked out with a formula taking into account six factors: weather, debt, time since Christmas, time since failing our New Year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and the feeling of a need to take action.
Dr David Chesover is from NHS West Kent’s Clinical Commissioning Group.
He said: “The beginning of a new year can sometimes bring people’s unhappiness into focus.
“The dark mornings and dreary days of January can make worse an existing low mood. And when post-Christmas debt is added to the mix, some people struggle to cope.”
Dr Chesover said: “If you’re experiencing depression, there’s no need to suffer in silence.
“Medication keeps me level. It doesn’t make me feel happy necessarily but it helps get me through the day” – Daniel Huckfield
“Help is available, and anyone feeling they are experiencing depression should talk to their GP. Men can be particularly reluctant to talk about their problems, but by making that positive step, you can change your life for the better.
“It’s unrealistic for all of us to happy all of the time, and low moods are part of the human experience.
“But depression is an illness and needs to be treated. It’s a new year – and time to make a new start.”
If you think you suffer with depression or another mental health illness, or know of someone who might, here are a few links to details of where you can find help:
• The 24-hour Mental Health Matters Helpline offers confidential emotional advice and
support: ring 0800 107 0160
• Details of NHS counselling and therapy services available in your area are on
the Health Help Now website.