The number of antidepressants being used in England has risen sevenfold in the last 25 years. That statistic alone is hugely significant. Only nine million prescriptions were made in Britain in 1991, compared to 64 million prescriptions in 2016.
However, this increase in use isn't uniform across the country. Researchers looked at the prescription data for different regions in the UK and found that twice as many antidepressants are prescribed per person in the North East as in the South East and London. In the North East, doctors made 1.73 of the prescriptions per person in 2016, while in the South East and London the rate was only 0.82 prescriptions per person.
The database company Exasol used data on every GP prescription dispensed at pharmacies in England and found that the area with highest rate of antidepressant use was Blackpool, with 2.11 prescriptions issued per person last year. Coming closely behind was Sunderland and East Lindsey in Lincolnshire, both with 1.99 prescriptions per person.
This isn't a coincidence: it's directly linked to wealth. Blackpool is one of the poorest districts in England, according to the Department of Communities, which uses information on factors like employment and housing to monitor levels of deprivation. The researchers made this point, too, saying there was a "clear link to deprivation in the North and East of England".
The relationship between poverty and mental health is inarguable at this point. The World Health Organisation argue that no matter where in the world you look, an overwhelming majority with mental and psychosocial disabilities are living in poverty. As such, they say that when we talk about mental health it cannot be considered in isolation from other areas such as education and employment.
In Britain specifically, austerity is already shown to have a dangerous effect on the population's mental health as a whole, particularly in already deprived areas. It's a vicious cycle when access to help is limited, as it is now. Police callouts for mental health incidents are up 43 percent since 2011, for example, because officers are left to "pick up the flak" for cuts to services. Poor mental health can lead you into debt and keep you in unemployment, exacerbating ill health. This new data provides more context to the problem the government is fuelling, but ultimately it's something we've known for years.
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