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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 March, 2004, 00:53 GMT 01:53 UK
Depression pills 'too accessible'
There are fears over side-effects
Most GPs over-prescribe anti-depressants such as Prozac to their patients, a survey suggests.

More than three-quarters of GPs who took part admitted they were too ready to prescribe the drugs, a poll by Norwich Union Healthcare found.

Almost as many (72%) said they wrote more prescriptions for the drugs now than they did five years ago.

Many doctors said a lack of options, such as social care and psychological therapies, forced their hand.

A quarter (26%) said increasing access to psychological support services should be a top priority for the NHS.

There is growing concern about the long-term side-effects of anti-depressant drugs, particularly when taken by children. It is feared they may make some patients suicidal.

Official guidance

Survey findings:
A third of people say they have a mild or moderate mental health condition - or know someone who has
17% have sought help or advice for mild anxiety, depression or stress
Men are more likely to keep quiet at work for fear it will affect their career
Last year the Department of Health said the majority of the most commonly prescribed type of anti-depressants - selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors - should not be given to people under 18.

Only one SSRI - Prozac - was recommended to be prescribed to youngsters as it was found that the benefits outweighed the risks.

The latest study found 81% of the 250 GPs questioned in the UK openly admitted to over-prescribing antidepressants like Prozac and Seroxat.

Depression is thought to affect one in five people at some stage in their life, with many visiting their doctor expecting a prescription for antidepressants.

Jim Thomson, chief executive of charity Depression Alliance, said: "Anti-depressants are a valuable form of treatment for many people affected by depression.

"But these medicines work best in combination with other therapies - therapies that are largely unavailable in many areas, forcing GPs to prescribe in isolation of them.

"We want people to be aware of the many alternative types of treatment available, such as self-help and talking therapies, and we encourage them to look at all the options available to them to help combat their illness."

GP view

Dr Hamish Meldrum, a senior member of the British Medical Association's GP committee, told BBC News Online family doctors were not dishing out anti-depressants "willy-nilly".

He said: "GPs are often forced to prescribe anti-depressants to their patients when they would rather use non-drug treatments because other options have been closed down to them.

"Prescribing pills can be helpful to some extent, but often they are not an answer to the specific problems a patient has got.

"To use an analogy, if somebody is being banged over the head you could give them a poor quality tin hat, but it would be far better to stop the person who is banging them on the head."

Dr Meldrum said GPs did not have the time, and were not properly trained, to offer the counselling support which could be provided by specialist services.

Norwich Union Healthcare has created an online information guide which allows people to search for mental health services in the UK.


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