LONDON — A group of psychiatrists, psychologists and politicians in the U.K. have called for a halt to new antidepressant prescriptions for patients with mild conditions, arguing that growing prescription rates are not associated with improvements in mental health.
Nearly 1 in 5 British adults are prescribed antidepressants, with the number of annual prescriptions jumping from around 47 million in 2011 to 86 million in 2022/23.
The signatories of an open letter published in the British Medical Journal Tuesday — who include professors of psychiatry and psychology, GPs, former NHS chief Nigel Crisp and former care minister Norman Lamb — want to see a reversal of this trend.
The authors’ main concern is that the uptick in prescriptions has not seen a corresponding improvement in population level mental health outcomes. Some measures show that these have in fact worsened, they write.
The letter comes as a new All Party Parliamentary Group called Beyond Pills launches Tuesday, chaired by MP Danny Kruger and co-chaired by Crisp, who is a member of the House of Lords. The group will focus on interventions such as social prescribing and psychological therapies.
“The high rate of prescribing of antidepressants over recent years is a clear example of over-medicalisation, where patients are often prescribed unnecessary and potentially harmful drugs instead of tackling the root causes of their suffering, such as loneliness, poverty or poor housing,” said Crisp in a statement.
Under official guidelines, health professionals are not meant to offer antidepressants as a first line treatment for less severe depression, unless that is the patient’s preference. However, the signatories say it is still happening and want the U.K. government to prevent it. They also want health professionals to adhere to the UK drug watchdog’s guidance on safe prescribing, and funding for a national 24-hour prescribed drug withdrawal helpline.