Antidepressant use hits record high as Covid crisis takes toll on mental health

Use of antidepressants has hit an all time high in England as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll on the nation’s mental health.

People have also turned to other services such as emergency helplines in record numbers – but there long delays in obtaining therapy and other forms of support.

It’s thought doctors are increasingly choosing to prescribe drugs to combat mental health problems because of the difficulties in accessing alternative treatments due to the crisis.

But campaigners say this is leading to people being sent away with a ‘bag of medication’ from their GP, without the necessary therapy to go with it.

This is potentially leading to some experiencing more complex and severe difficulties later in life as early intervention is seen as crucial.

An analysis by The Guardian newspaper found more than six million people in England received antidepressants in the three months to September, the highest figure on record.

Mental health campaigner Natasha Devon told the paper: ‘People are going to their GPs with symptoms of mental illness and being sent away with a bag of medication, having been put on an 18-month waiting list.’

It’s the latest sign that the pandemic has sparked a major crisis in Britain’s mental health. In June, the Office for National Statistics said the number of adults in Britain with depression had doubled since the start of the pandemic.

Despite this, 235,000 fewer people were referred to the NHS’ Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme in the six months to the end of August, a 28% drop.

Experts say the fall in referrals was down to a number of factors including online sessions being seen as inappropriate for some people and patients staying away because of concerns about catching Covid.

Dr Esther Cohen-Tovée, the chair of the British Psychological Society’s division of clinical psychology, said: ‘I’m shocked and extremely concerned about the massive extent of the reduction in referrals for psychological help during a time of huge anxiety, stress and distress for the whole population. This is even more concerning when there has been a huge increase in the prescription of antidepressants.’

She said psychological help ‘can be a lifesaver’ and ‘the longer people wait, the more severe and complex their difficulties and their lives can become’.

An NHS England spokesperson told The Guardian that there had initially been a drop on the people coming forward for support but the number of patients accessing mental health services has now returned to near pre-Covid levels.

They said: ‘Talking therapy sessions which the public can self-refer on to for both face to face and online sessions and referrals are now rapidly increasing, while the establishment of all-age 24/7 crisis service helplines, and self-help websites such as Every Mind Matters can also aid those people going through a tough time.’

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