The latest prescription figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show that the UK is in the midst of a psychiatric drug epidemic. Over 57m prescriptions for antidepressants were issued in England in 2014, enough for one for every man, woman and child. This represents a 7.5% increase since 2013, and over 500% since 1992. This level of antidepressant prescribing is particularly worrying, given that the prevalence of depression has remained steady over the past ten years. Indeed recent research suggests that the numbers of prescriptions are rising because more people are taking the drugs for longer.
Dr. James Davies, co-founder of the Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry (CEP) and author of Cracked: Why Psychiatry is doing more Harm than Good, says, “More people are taking antidepressants for longer because these drugs cause dependency and people cannot get off. Withdrawal support charities report increasing numbers of people who are unable to withdraw without suffering severe symptoms which can sometimes last for months or even years after coming off. Urgent action is needed to reduce prescribing levels and to provide proper services for those who wish to come off.”
There have been significant rises in the prescription of other psychiatric drugs too. 10.5m prescriptions for drugs used to treat psychosis were issued in England in 2014, up from 9.7m in 2013, an increase of over 8% in just one year. There has also been an 8% rise in prescriptions for stimulants – typically used to treat children with “hyperactivity disorders” – to almost 1.2m prescriptions.
Dr. Davies continues, “It is very worrying that each year prescription rates rise at a much faster rate than the population, with a total of around 85 million prescriptions for psychiatric drugs last year in England alone. The evidence clearly shows that long-term use of these medications often leads to worse outcomes for patients, with higher rates of mortality and disability. These drugs should be used much more cautiously, only for short periods and always with a clear plan for tapering off.”