Spike in people taking antidepressants highlights struggling mental health services - doctor

The number of patients in the public health system taking prescribed antidepressants has increased by almost 20% in a five-year period.

In per capita terms, the number of patients who are prescribed antidepressants on publicly funded drug schemes increased by 18% from 2012 to 2017.

This is according to research by RTÉ Investigates as part of an investigation into the consumption of prescription drugs in the public health service.

The analysis found that patients are also consuming more of these prescription drugs with the dosages prescribed increasing by 28%, in per capita terms, in the six-year period to 2017.

As part of the investigation, the Primary Care Reimbursement Service (PCRS) prescribing information was obtained for each Local Health Office area.

According to Dr Harry Barry, a retired GP, the increase in prescribing these medications is likely evidence of more anxiety rather than a depression epidemic.

Dr Harry Barry
Dr Harry Barry

In recent years, awareness campaigns have helped to raise people's awareness of their mental health and the importance of reaching out and seeking help when needed.

Dr Tom O'Dowd, a GP based in Tallaght in Dublin, said that a greater awareness could mean that more people are willing to seek help and sometimes that help will involve prescription medication.

"However, we're caught in a bind in that the pharmacology we have for depression, for example, works well and patients feel better, they get back to work or they get back to normal home life," Dr O'Dowd told RTÉ Investigates.

The other services that are needed, like a psychological intervention, counselling are not readily available.

Prescription medications can often be used to alleviate mental health issues in the short term with a view to seeking other treatment methods.

Dr Barry said that many mental health services are struggling.

"If you look at mental health teams around the country, so many of them are not properly funded, so many of them are understaffed, they're absolutely overrun."

According to the analysis, there is higher consumption of antidepressants in areas of the south-east including South Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny.

The HSE have stated previously that the south-east had among the worst waiting figures in the country.

The HSE was responding to a parliamentary question from Independent TD for Wexford, Mick Wallace who highlighted the lack of mental health services in his constituency.

According to the HSE response in relation to waiting times for the HSE's Counselling in Primary Care Service, as of December 2018, there were 486 people waiting for more than one month for this service in the south-east.

This equates to 24 people, per 1,000 medical card holders; the national rate was 19 per 1,000.

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