Northern Ireland : World leader in Anti-Depressant Prescriptions

Northern Ireland : World leader in Anti-Depressant Prescriptions

Newly released “The Script Report”, compiled by US data journalist Jon McClure for The Detail, documents that Northern Ireland’s doctors have prescribed anti-depressants two and half times more often their English counterparts and that these levels were higher than those of 23 other countries featured in the global study (incl. Canada, Australia, Portugal, Denmark and Sweden).

This year too, figures released by the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) in response to a freedom of information request, demonstrated that a record number of anti-depressants were prescribed to the people of Northern Ireland last year… Over 100 million anti-depressant tablets dispensed by medical staff.

In a statement, the HSCB said it recognised that a great deal more needed to be done to provide alternatives to drug therapy for each person suffering a common mental health issue. They further noted that a reduction of the reliance on drug therapy was one of the HSCB’s “key objectives”.

So what can we take from these findings?

What does this mean about the state of the Northern Ireland public’s mental health? Steven McCaffrey, Editor of The Detail says Traditional views that poverty and the Troubles are the drivers do not go far enough”, he continued to say that “It may be a legacy of the Troubles, but what doctors are telling us is that they are increasingly finding patients who are too young to be directly affected.”

Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA Northern Ireland General Practitioners Committee told The Script Report that “The big trend I see is the ‘sandwich generation’ are getting hammered,”. “Someone stuck in the middle, looking after children, working hard at a difficult job and looking after parents and grandparents. They’re sandwiched between all those responsibilities. Females, late 20s, 30s and into their 40s, they’re having a tough time out there.”

The HSBC said it believes the rise could could be a result of publicity campaigns which have “encouraged the public to think about their mental health and encouraged action in relation to mental health” and that “Improved GP awareness of ‘good depression management’ has led to improved detection rates and a parallel increase in interventions and prescriptions…”.

Dr Tom Black agrees, “Politicians, the media and the public felt we were under-diagnosing, and they wanted to put the control in the patient’s hands,”. Now Self-Diagnosis has been encouraged he said the increase in prescriptions could be a direct effect of another public campaign to increase attention on the prevalence of depression in the population.

The Script Report also looked into the pressures faced by individual GPs to supply these drugs by questions about the availability of counselling services as an alternative to prescription drugs.

Now we have the information, what do we do?

The HSCB record the cost of prescribing anti-depressants in 2013 was almost £16m. They openly states that a reduction of the reliance on drug therapy was one of the HSCB’s “key objectives”.

Positively The Script Report includes information on alternative options, stating that “support groups and educational programmes can successfully mitigate mild to moderate symptoms of depression, often in place of a drug regimen.”

In general the message regarding alternatives to medication remain the same – Some may consider complementary therapies, diet, exercise, mental conditioning and lifestyle changes to ease depression but these cannot be fully endorsed on the overwhelming anecdotal evidence or small studies, conclusive studies must be undertaken.

Thankfully steps are being taken. Aware Defeat Depression began offering the “Living Life to the Full programme” in 2009, founded on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy principles and with funding from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. “The programme provides educational counselling including coaching on how to cope with depressive symptoms and general wellness tips.”

Once evaluated, 394 participants claimed the programme was highly successful, with the number of participants classified as “depressed” dropping by 59%, and those classified as “happy” increasing by 57%.

Aware Defeat Depression are said to be hopeful that these positive results will bolster support for future investment in therapies and psycho-educational programmes. They want GPs who feel they have no other option but to place their patients on medication, to have those alternatives available.

Natural Therapies Directory NI, believe that other therapies must be utilized to give those who suffer depression new and gentle resources, these could help them to reduce chronic pain, feel more control or reduce anxiety.

“It’s about giving people the tools, the strategy and building up their own personal resilience”

Acupuncture, Aromatherapy, Biofeedback, Chiropractic treatments, Guided imagery, Herbal remedies, Mindfulness, Massage therapy, Meditation, Relaxation Techniques, Yoga and Colour Therapy are just some of the many Complementary Therapies that could be used to complement the work of anti-depressant medical treatment.


To read THE SCRIPT REPORT in full click here

Everyone is in a unique situation, we ask that you enjoy our blog for broad consideration but please do not make health care decisions solely based on the information you find here.