PRESCRIPTIONS of anti-depressants have soared in Oxfordshire, costing the NHS £8m in the past five years.

In 2006/07, 220,282 prescriptions for the two main types of anti-depressants were made, rising to 355,004 in the year to last April.

Health leaders said more focus on spotting depression, greater awareness that help was available and people remaining on medication for longer led to the rise.

Oxfordshire Mind chief executive Patrick Taylor said: “Although a lot of stigma sadly still exists around mental health problems, more discussion of mental health in the media and campaigns such as Time to Change’s national ‘Time to Talk’ day have raised awareness that help is available if you’re struggling.

“As more and more people feel confident to seek the support they need it is perhaps not surprising if we see an increase in prescriptions for anti-depressants and other medications.”

He said county residents were “fortunate” to have access to TalkingSpace, an NHS programme that uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

This helps people change their thinking and behaviour patterns to combat moderate depression and anxiety. The service sees about 7,500 people a year.

The figures were provided by Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG), which makes most NHS funding decisions, under the Freedom of Information Act.

The figures for prescriptions were for the two main categories of anti-depressants – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-adrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

The most common drugs prescribed were citalopram, 166,144 times last year, and fluoxetine, also sold as Prozac, with 75,682 prescriptions. A spokesman said: “There has been more focus on diagnosing early depression over the last five years.

“Appropriately prescribed anti-depressants are very effective and guidelines are clear about the advantages of staying on anti-depressants until the episode is fully resolved.”

Previously, some were advised to stop taking drugs if they felt better, he said.

And June Dent, a consultant clinical psychologist who runs TalkingSpace, said that means more people now take the drugs for longer, contributing to the rise.

She added: “In a time of recession more people are feeling stressed and if they have had a history of depression that might tip them into more depression. By and large, one in six of us is going is going to feel depressed or anxious. That figure doesn’t really change very much.”

National guidelines say GPs should first assess the severity of depression, suicide risk and seek to exclude bipolar affective disorder.

They add CBT should be considered alongside prescribing the drugs, for which citalopram and fluoxetine are the first to be tried.

Since 2006/07 the highest number of prescriptions made was in 2012/13 but despite that, less money was spent than in any other year in our figures. The OCCG said this was because drug patents expired, leading to more cheaper, generic brands being used.

The two main categories of anti-depressants prescribed in 2012/13 were selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) of which 317,173 were given to patients, and serotonin-adrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) which totalled 37,831 cases.

While SSRIs are thought to have fewer side effects, some respond better to SNRIs.

Both work by increasing neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain like serotonin and noradrenaline.

‘Pills lifeline’ after marriage failed

DESPITE receiving support from psychiatrists and psychologists, George Roper said anti-depressants have been a lifeline through a difficult 10 years.

The 50-year-old who lives in St Aldate’s, Oxford, sought help after the breakdown of his marriage 10 years ago and now takes 300mg of venlafaxine and 100mg of trazodone.

Mr Roper, above, said: “Until my breakdown I had never been out of work for a day in my life.

“Initially I wasn’t sure they would have any effect but then they got me up to the right dosage and I was able to function to a certain extent.”

While he remains out of work as he battles his disorder and social anxiety, the former robot engineer at Swindon’s Honda factory said: “Without them I would be a gibbering wreck.

“I have seen psychiatrists and psychologists, I have done cognitive behavioural therapy. I have done everything that is available and I am surviving on what I am on.”

He said therapies helped him understand issues from his past, from “middle child syndrome” to bullying at school and how he did part-time DJ gigs to “put on a mask”.

The father-of-two said of the drugs: “They have not fixed me totally, but they allow me to function.”

  • For information on TalkingSpace visit or call 01865 325777