Intended for healthcare professionals


NHS prescribed record number of antidepressants last year

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 29 March 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l1508
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

The number of prescriptions for antidepressants in England has almost doubled in the past decade, new figures have shown.

Data from NHS Digital1 show that 70.9 million prescriptions for antidepressants were given out in 2018, compared with 36 million in 2008.

The number has been steadily increasing year-on-year, with 64.7 million given out in 2016 and 67.5 million prescribed in 2017.

The figure includes all prescription items dispensed by the NHS in England, but excludes drugs given out in hospitals or by private prescription.

Responding to the figures, Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “Prescribing is a core skill for GPs, and we will only prescribe drugs to a patient after a full and frank discussion with them, considering their unique circumstances, and if we genuinely believe they will be of benefit.

“Antidepressants are no different, and it’s important that increasing numbers of antidepressant prescriptions are not automatically seen as a bad thing, as research has shown they can be very effective when used appropriately.”

Stokes-Lampard said that the figures could indicate “rising awareness of mental health conditions in society and more patients feeling able to seek medical care for them—as well as an improvement in the identification and diagnosis of mental health conditions.”

She added that where possible GPs would consider different treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy and talking therapies for patients with depression or anxiety, but said access to these services was “patchy” across the country.

An NHS England spokesman said: “While antidepressants play an important role for some patients, an attitude of ‘a pill for every ill’ can mean that some people end up taking drugs they don’t need to, and taxpayer funding is spent on avoidable prescriptions.

“This is why the NHS is rolling out alternatives to drugs, like 1000 social prescribing link workers giving people care and advice tailored to their condition and, for mental health problems, the world’s most ambitious programme of talking therapies which can resolve common conditions like depression and anxiety.”