PUBLISHED:19:01 EST, 31 July 2012 | UPDATED:19:43 EST, 31 July 2012
Record numbers of adults are relying on Prozac and other so-called happy pills, according to NHS figures
Almost 50million prescriptions were handed out by doctors last year – a rise of nine per cent compared with the previous 12 months.
Experts said increasing numbers of patients are turning to GPs for help as depression loses its stigma.
At the same time, doctors are more inclined to give people a proper diagnosis and prescribe medication, rather than simply sending them away.
The figures, from the NHS Information Centre, show the health service spent £270million handing out such drugs in 2011, a rise of more than a fifth compared with 2010.
Last year, just under 47million prescriptions were handed out, a nine per cent increase compared with the previous year.
But campaigners say doctors are sometimes too eager to prescribe antidepressants when there are other treatments available, such as counselling.
There is evidence that one-to-one therapy or group sessions are just as effective as drugs – but far less expensive. They also help address the cause of the illness – such as grief or lack of confidence – and, unlike drugs, do not have unpleasant side effects such as insomnia or sickness.
Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity SANE, said: ‘The rise in antidepressant prescriptions does not necessarily mean that GPs are diagnosing more people with depression, but that people are being treated for longer periods on repeat prescriptions.
‘The longer-term rise may also in part reflect a greater willingness of people to seek help when concerned about their mental health.
‘Antidepressants are also being used for a wider range of mental health problems, such as anxiety.’
The most commonly-used antidepressants are Prozac and Seroxat, which work by changing the levels of certain chemicals in the brain.
But they may not be as effective as previously thought, with some research finding they only benefit half of all patients.
There is growing evidence Britain is becoming a nation of pill poppers, with millions spent on an array of treatments. Earlier this year, figures obtained through Freedom of Information requests showed the NHS was spending £50million a year on sleeping pills.
This is a rise of a sixth in only three years.
Referring to the figures for antidepressants, a spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘The rise in prescriptions of antidepressants does not necessarily mean a rise in patients.
‘For example, shorter but more frequent prescriptions allow medication to be reviewed and can cut down wastage.
‘People are becoming more aware of depression as a treatable condition and doctors are also more alert to its signs and symptoms.
‘The most suitable care for patients is a clinical decision. Talking therapies are increasingly available alongside or as an alternative to medication.
‘Funding for talking therapies will be boosted by £400million over the next four years and this will directly benefit 3.2million people