The record number of pills being handed out for depression is a cause of concern, especially when access to other treatments is restricted

Almost 71m prescriptions for antidepressants were given out in England last year – not including drugs dispensed in hospitals outside the NHS. This is a vast number of pills – more than twice the number of prescriptions given for antibiotics; 20m more than for cholesterol-lowering statins. In a decade, the number of antidepressant prescriptions has doubled; it has risen by 3m in a year. Around 7 million adults (16% of the English adult population) are now taking this medicine, and around 330,000 children.

The new data can’t say whether more people are depressed than previously – only that more are being medicated. The most recent official survey, in 2016, revealed an increase in rates of the most common mental health conditions among women, particularly teenage girls. Recent reports from a commission assembled by the Lancet medical journal, and the World Health Organization, have warned of a growing global mental health crisis, and called on policymakers and professionals worldwide to make this a priority.

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