COLUMN: Are we becoming dependent on medication?

In the last decade the prescribing of antidepressants in the UK has doubled. The rates have increased dramatically from just over 31 million in 2005 to around 61 million in 2015.

Worldwide in terms of countries who have the highest amount of antidepressant users per 1000, the UK ranks 8th out of the 24 listed.

Of course the natural inference to draw from this is that as a country our mental health is ailing.

However whilst the prescribing of antidepressants is synonymous with depression, there is an argument to suggest this does not always accurately reflect the problem.

We have to take into consideration doctors have a limited amount of time with patients, and there expertise lies in physiology rather than psychology. Effectively many doctors do not feel comfortable around the field of mental health (only 1/3 felt equipped to deal with mental health problems in research conducted in 2009) and will often rely on the PHQ9 and the GAD7 to measure levels of emotional unrest in an individual.

We must also consider other factors like stress as well as more short term causes of emotional unrest such as a challenging period at work. There exists an argument that antidepressants are too easily prescribed and people can become quickly reliant on them. What antidepressants do is they redress the chemical imbalance in your brain. They do this by increasing levels of a group of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and noradrenaline, can improve mood and emotion although this is something which is still debated.

What we need to keep in mind is this type of medication can take up to 2 weeks to get into your system and anything between four and six weeks to begin having an effect. Having to wait anything up to one and a half months to begin feeling better can be a very long and

painful wait for people affected by something like reactive depression. Therefore having something else which works in conjunction with the medication which may be more immediate, such as therapy, is often advisable. Whilst there are benefits to medication, there is an argument people can become dependent on it and I have heard stories of people being on them for years, with little to no change in their mental health.

Whilst medication can help you to feel better, it does not address the root cause of the problem, which means it gives little consideration to prevention. By this rationale the more positive feelings will only ever be transient and these are only reinforced by

more medication. Therefore it is easy to see where and how the dependency is created. Whilst there may always be a need for this type of medication we must change our outlook and view it is a short term supporting role as opposed to a long term independent solution.

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