Page last updated at 05:47 GMT, Tuesday, 7 April 2009 06:47 UK

Valleys top anti-depressant table

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BBC Wales health correspondent Elin Gwilym spoke to one patient about his experience

More anti-depressant drugs are being prescribed to patients in the south Wales valleys than anywhere else in England and Wales, new figures show.

Seven of the "top 10" areas for the drugs were in Wales, and the highest was Torfaen, with 104 prescriptions per 1,000 patients in January.

National guidance says patients should first be offered self-help and therapy.

The Welsh Assembly Government said it had invested significantly in mental health services in recent years.

The figures were obtained by the BBC's home affairs correspondent Mark Easton in a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI).

They showed that the rate of prescribing anti-depressants was just under one in 10 of patients in Rhondda Cynon Taf, Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil.

Bridgend, Caerphilly and, in north Wales, Denbighshire also have high rates of anti-depressant prescriptions handed out.

The figures also showed the highest year-on-year increases in prescribing could be found in Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent.

ANTI-DEPRESSANT TOP 10
Torfaen - 104
Rhondda Cynon Taf - 97
Blaenau Gwent - 97
Merthyr Tydfil - 97
Neath Port Talbot - 94
Bridgend - 94
Caerphilly - 93
Blackpool - 92
Redcar & Cleveland - 89
Salford - 89
Prescriptions of anti-depressants per 1,000 in January 2009. Source: Prescription Pricing Authority in England and the Prescribing Services Unit in Wales

On average across Wales there has been a 3.15% increase in the prescribing of drugs like Prozac during 2008 despite national guidance advocating alternative treatments.

The national guidelines for England and Wales on the prescribing of anti-depressants recommends they should not be used as first line therapy for mild to moderate depression.

The guidelines state that in the first instance patients should be offered self help and psychological therapies

But doctors in Wales said there was a lack of support services available for sufferers and they were often left with no option other than to prescribe drugs like Prozac.

Dr David Bailey, of the British Medical Association (BMA) Cymru, said patients often had to wait five or six months for therapy because of a lack of funds and skilled practitioners.

There is a skills shortage as well as a money issue
Dr David Bailey, BMA Cymru

"In England some extra money has been promised by the Department of Health to pay for more counselling and specialist therapy that is due to roll out in Wales too," he said.

"I know the assembly is trying find money to improve the access to cognitive behavioural therapy (a specialised form of counselling) and counselling.

"But there is a skills shortage as well as a money issue. There just aren't enough skilled practitioners able to provide these therapies in Wales."

Dr Bailey said the higher prescription rates could reflect increasing rates of mild depression because of the current economic climate.

"It could be that the current economic climate is making mild depression more common because people are worried about their jobs and how they are going to make ends meet," he said.

Healthy lifestyle

Chief medical officer for Wales Tony Jewell said GPs were encouraged to consider alternatives to medication including referral to a counsellor.

The assembly government was also trying to promote the importance of a healthy lifestyle, had funded a free bilingual 24/7 advice and information line, and was rolling out a mental health first aid programme, he said.

The assembly government said it had increased the number of mental health and occupational health professionals and those in training.

"An extra £100,000 from the Welsh Assembly Government is also being made available every year to improve support for GPs providing care for people experiencing mental health problems," said a spokesperson.

"In 2005, we launched Book Prescription Wales which allows highly recommended self-help books to be prescribed by GPs... and other health providers."



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