The number of prescriptions for antidepressants has reached a record high in the United Kingdom, and experts fear that some people may be unnecessarily exposed to antidepressant side effects.
The Health and Social Care Information Centre released the new figures on prescription drugs, which showed antidepressant use had risen by one-third in just a year, and that about four million Britons are taking the drugs each year – twice as many compared to 10 years ago.
Representatives from mental health agencies say they worry that people suffering from depression are prescribed drugs as a first-line defense because other forms of help, such as counseling, are not readily available.
Antidepressants, such as the widely prescribed class known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, can help patients suffering from depression. But in some cases, patients with mild to moderate depression may benefit more from therapy, especially since SSRIs can carry serious side effects, and they are often prescribed to women of childbearing age.
At issue, studies have suggested that women who use SSRIs during pregnancy are at greater risk of delivering a baby with birth defects. These defects range from lung and/or heart defects, malformations including cleft lip/palate or clubfoot, and spinal cord defects. Studies have also show that mothers using SSRIs while pregnant are at greater risk of having a miscarriage, premature birth, or dangerously high blood pressure.
Further studies have questioned whether SSRI exposure in utero increases the likelihood that a child will have behavioral problems or developmental delays or autism.
“Our concern is that people are being prescribed antidepressants inappropriately,” says Beth Murphy, head of the mental health charity Information at Mind.