Peter Hoskin

Fixing the Prozac Nation

Fixing the Prozac Nation
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“Anti-depressants don't work” is the message splashed across the front pages this morning, after a research team from the University of Hull discovered that:

“The difference in improvement between patients taking placebos and people taking anti-depressants is not very great ....   There seems little reason to prescribe antidepressant medication to any but the most severely depressed patients.”

The finding isn't too surprising.  In 2004, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) said that antidepressants shouldn't be prescribed in the case of mild depression, as the “risk-benefit ratio is poor”.  So why has the prescription of antidepressants soared, until significant numbers of children and even pets are using the drugs?

On Dr Martin Ingram's account, there are two reasons for the sorry situation – the day-to-day difficulties faced by GPs, and the war for hearts-and-minds waged by drugs companies:

“GPs are overstretched, under-resourced and have a limited amount of time to spend on each patient. Waiting lists for one of the most effective treatments for depression, cognitive behaviour therapy, are often as long as six months and counselling resources are often the first victims of cutbacks. It's frustrating.

It's no wonder it's so difficult to resist the pressure to prescribe, to deny patients what they can tend to see as their due. In Britain, too, pharmaceutical companies are eager to promote their wares to interested consumers.

Drug companies will keenly promote the effectiveness of their particular medication, but given the nebulous nature of depression, it's all too difficult to measure efficacy - something the Hull University report usefully establishes.”

The Government was forewarned about all this.  Back in 2006, Lord Layard told them that depression is Britain's "biggest social problem" - costing some £17 billion a year as well as blighting numerous individual lives - and that sufferers were all too often handed pills.  Nothing's changed since then.  Will this new revelation spur Brown into action?