GPs need better support in tackling depression

A ‘loneliness epidemic’ has been blamed for very high numbers of older people being prescribed antidepressants; the RCGP has defended GPs’ role in this

According to research published by The Times, older people are being prescribed antidepressants twice as much as those in their 20s – something that is attributed to a ‘loneliness epidemic’.

The World Health Organisation believes that around 5% of all adults are suffering from depression at any one time. Data from the NHS shows that 525,970 people in the 18-24 age bracket were prescribed antidepressants last year.

The number rises to an incredible 2,794,451 for 40-59 year-olds, and 2,578,454 for those over 60. It is suggested that the older the person being prescribed antidepressants, the more likely it is that they will remain on the medication for many years.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, responded to this research – both defending the prescribing of antidepressants by GPs and calling for better mental support in general practice.

She said:

“It’s important that these figures aren’t automatically seen as a bad thing. They may indicate that more patients now feel able to disclose mental health problems, and seek medical care and that negative stigma too often associated with mental health conditions is reducing in society.

“The data certainly highlights two interesting trends: the first is the link between patients who live in deprived areas, and poor mental health; the other that patients over 60 are twice as likely to have a prescription for antidepressants.

“There could be very simple explanations, such as a greater lack of alternative therapies in deprived areas, and increasing levels of social isolation and loneliness in older people – more research is needed to properly understand the reasons for both trends, but both clearly need to be addressed.

“Antidepressants are of proven benefit for many patients, as a large-scale study published in The Lancet earlier this year showed, but no patient wants to be reliant on – and no GP wants to prescribe – any medication long-term, and where possible we will explore alternatives, such as talking therapies and CBT.

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“However, there is a severe lack of these services, and choice of therapies, in the community that could benefit our patients with mental health conditions.

“When GPs do prescribe antidepressants, it will have been after a full and frank discussion with the patient in front of them, based on their unique circumstances, and taking into account the physical, psychological and social factors potentially affecting their health.

“However, there is also the issue that the standard 10-minute GP consultation is increasingly inadequate to properly deliver care to patients with complex health needs – which mental health conditions invariably are.

“NHS England’s GP Forward View pledged for every GP practice to have access to one of 3,000 new mental health therapists. We need this, and its other promises – including £2.4bn extra a year for general practice and 5,000 more GPs – to be delivered as a matter of urgency, so that we can continue to provide the best possible mental health care to our patients.”

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