THOUSANDS more people are taking anti-depressants since the recession began, new figures show.
The number of people in the North East taking the drugs has risen by 32 per cent since 2008, costing the region’s health services more than £15million.
Date provided by the NHS Information Centre showed that more than 3.1million items were prescribed in 2010/11, compared with 2.3million in 2007/08.
The North East has experienced the second largest increase nationally, with mental health charities saying it is due in large parts to stress caused by the economic downturn.
The Echo reported how nearly 13,500 Wearsiders have lodged pleas with mental health charity Washington Mind since the beginning of 2011.
Jacqui Reeves, services manager, said: “The major message we would want to give is that you are not on your own although it may feel like this, many of us are struggling.
“It is not always the GP or mental health services who can provide that crucial support, but often it’s that friend, neighbour or colleague who notices and can make the difference by giving the gift of time.”
Charities are expecting even more demands on their services with no sign of an end to the dire financial situation in the near future.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “The tough economic times may have contributed to more people experiencing depression but improved awareness around mental health problems may also mean more people are seeking help for their problems, with doctors also getting better at spotting symptoms.
“It’s important to remember that anti-depressants can be a lifeline for some people which enable them to manage their mental health problems.
“It is worrying that anti-depressants can be the first port of call for some doctors, despite the fact that ‘watchful waiting’ and talking therapies are recommended as the first line of treatment for mild to moderate depression.”
Emer O’Neill, chief executive of Depression Alliance, said: “For some people depression just happens, but for others it is triggered by stressful events, for example losing a job, property or bereavement.
“These uncertain economic times are linked to an increase in the number of people with the illness.”
The latest figures for Wearside show that in the last six years, the use of antidepressants has rocketed by 40 per cent, with doctors dishing out an average of 700 prescriptions a day.
In 2008/09, medics made 262,233 prescriptions for depression-tackling drugs on Wearside, compared to 186,690 in 2003/04.
SIGNS of depression to look out for in yourself and loved ones are:
* Losing interest in life.
* Finding it harder to make decisions.
* Not coping with things that used to be manageable.
* Feeling restless and agitated.
* Loss of appetite and weight.
* Difficulties getting to sleep or sleeping too much.