Antidepressant prescriptions rise by 100,000 in Western Trust in just five years
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The report by health economist Dr. Grainne Crealey shows the number of antidepressant prescription items dispensed in the Western Trust rose from just under 600,000 in 2018 to 700,000 in 2022.
Her report further highlights how expenditure on talking therapies – an alternative to antidepressants in some circumstances – is much lower in the Western Trust than elsewhere.
Spending ranges from £493,992 in the Western Trust to £4,078,128 in Belfast.
Mr. Durkan said: “One element of this report that is sure to raise eyebrows is the alarming rise in antidepressant prescription costs and usage; almost a fifth of the population are taking antidepressant medication.
"That is, perhaps, attributable to the dearth of talking therapies and shortage of skilled health staff.
"The ‘postcode lottery’ associated with these type of services is notorious and it’s difficult to comprehend why areas like Derry & Strabane, which has among the highest levels of mental illness, has the lowest access to psychological therapies.
"Research generally highlights that psychotherapy and methods like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are highly effective and can reduce the need for medication and hospitalisations.
"Therefore, focus must be geared towards developing new care pathways and expanding access to talking therapies."
Dr. Crealey’s paper reveals that, across the North, the number of antidepressants prescribed has increased exponentially over the past two decades from 1,096,255 in 2001 to 3,811,048 in 2022.
She writes: “Mental health is a crucial issue in NI, where the prevalence and severity of mental health problems are higher than in other parts of the UK.
"According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in five adults in NI has experienced a mental health problem, a rate 25% higher than in England and rates of depression are significantly higher than the rest of the UK with almost 1 in 5 of the population here receiving antidepressant medication during 2020/21.
"This translates to almost 24% of the female population and 14% of males.”
Dr. Crealey pointed to the prevalence of suicide as a major public health concern with ‘rates steadily rising since records began in 1970’.
"Three-hundred and eighteen deaths were registered in 2019, an increase of 19% from the previous year. Self-harm rates are higher in NI that other parts of the UK, with 5,237 hospital admissions in 2019/20, and substance misuse is a significant problem.”
The report shows expenditure on talking therapies – an alternative to antidepressants in some circumstances – is lower in the Western Trust than elsewhere.
Spending range from £493,992 in the Western Trust to £4,078,128 in the Belfast Trust.
Mr. Durkan said: “The North is caught in a vicious cycle of ever-increasing demand for services and a steady depletion of resources. Mental health services are being pummelled from all sides; the inability to allocate the necessary funding within the department has been compounded by the cuts in primary school counselling provision and huge losses from European funding.”