The number of adults in England taking antidepressants has increased every year for the past six years
"The rising number of antidepressant prescriptions could...be a welcome indicator that people feel more comfortable seeking support when they need it." Alexa Knight, head of policy, Rethink Mental Illness
The number of adults in England taking antidepressants has grown by half a million in the past year, NHS data shows.
From 2021-22, the number of adults receiving the drugs rose from 7.9 million in the previous 12 months to 8.3 million. An estimated 83.4 million antidepressant drug items were prescribed between 2021 and 2022, a 5% increase from the previous year. It is the sixth year in a row that there has been an increase in both the number of patients and prescriptions.
The number of prescriptions for children and teenagers has also risen by 8%, from 10,994 to 11,878 among 10 to 14-year-olds and from 166,922 to 180,455 in the 15 to 19-year-olds.
Women were twice as likely to be prescribed antidepressants as men.
Alexa Knight, who is in charge of policy at charity Rethink Mental Illness, told the BBC: “The fallout from the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis mean we should undoubtedly be concerned around the current pressures on people’s mental health.
“But the rising number of antidepressant prescriptions could also be a welcome indicator that people feel more comfortable seeking support when they need it.”
She said it was important for people to be offered different treatments based on the severity of their depression.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said in November that people with mild depression should be first offered exercise or therapy rather than antidepressants.
It also recommended group classes in meditation or behavioural therapy and individual counselling sessions in some instances.
The year-on-year increase in the number of people prescribed antidepressants is concerning, both because it indicates a likely rise in people experiencing mental illness, and because it suggests that doctors are reaching for medication rather than other options suggested by NICE, such as therapy. We do need to think more creatively as a society about how we manage and treat mental illness, without necessarily seeing medication as the first option.