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Last Updated: Monday, 17 May, 2004, 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK
Drugs substituted for counselling
Dr Andrew Deardon
Dr Andrew Deardon says drugs are often the quicker option
Doctors in Wales are having to prescribe anti-depressants to some patients because waiting lists for NHS counselling are so long.

Around 250,000 people in Wales are thought to be experiencing depression.

Support workers in the voluntary sector claim those with mild depression are being let down.

In a statement the Welsh Assembly Government said it had made mental health one of its "top priorities".

GP Dr Andrew Dearden, of the British Medical Association, said that if he could get counselling for patients with mild depression by the following day, in some cases he would not have to prescribe anti-depressants.

He said many of the cases of depression he dealt with were caused by redundancy, bereavement, or the breakdown of a relationship, and that often such cases could be helped by counselling rather than drugs.

In practice, the waiting list for counselling on the NHS in such cases is usually a couple of months.

But patients need immediate help to avoid their problems getting worse, Dr Dearden added.

"If I could get counselling for someone the next day or the day after, I'm sure a good percentage of the people would not have to be put on anti-depressants," he said.

Chemist shop
Chemists have seen a huge demand for anti-depressants
"But when someone comes sits down and bursts into tears and tells you that they are at their wits' end and you're their last hope - and you know that counselling is 12 weeks away, but anti-depressant tablets may work for them in 10 days - you go for what will work the quickest."

Charities offer a great deal of support, but they, too, are under pressure.

Tim Watkins, of the Depression Alliance, said suffering mental health problems himself had led him into working to help others.

He runs an office staffed by just three people from Cardiff that takes calls from people across Wales and sets up support groups across the country.

The patients are usually asking for advice about access to services and counselling.

In the past three years Mr Watkins has seen a 500% increase in the number of calls, and the charity is struggling to cope.

He believes that people with mild depression were too often being "medicalised" - being prescribed drugs when it was really support and counselling that they needed.

"One of our concerns is that we are seeing the pathologising of ordinary human emotions," he said.

Earlier this year, a survey suggested that most GPs over-prescribed anti-depressants such as Prozac to their patients.

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.

'Books on prescription'

In Cardiff patients are being prescribed books instead of pills to try and remedy this.

People who visit their GPs in the city are being recommended books, which they can then borrow from any library in the city.

The "books on prescription" scheme is for patients with a range of mental health problems, and the book lists are designed to help them get better.

In a statement an assembly spokesperson said it was addressing the problems people with mild depression face.

"We have learnt through patient surveys that psychological therapy is many patients preferred treatment mode...and a comprehensive evidence based range of psychological therapies must be accessible across Wales," it read.

" I hope a full range of therapies will be in place by the end of December 2005.

"In Wales we do have a number of initiatives already underway to help people with mild depression including the Cardiff Book Prescription Scheme.

"I want to see schemes such as this available to everyone in Wales who needs this support," it concluded.


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