Economic gloom 'fuelling rise in depression'

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Economic problems could be fuelling a rise in depression, figures obtained by the BBC suggest.

Data obtained from the NHS Prescription Services by the BBC show a dramatic increase in the number of prescriptions for anti-depressant drugs - with the number of prescriptions for the most common group of anti-depressants rising by 43% in the past four years to nearly 23 million a year.

GPs and charities said they were being contacted increasingly by people struggling with debt and job worries.

They said financial woes could often act as a "trigger", but added other factors may also be playing a role in the rise.

The figures, disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act, cover anti-depressant prescribing from 2006 to 2010, during which time the country had to cope with the banking crisis, recession and the start of the spending cuts.

Chief executive of Depression Alliance UK, Emer O'Neill, said today the rise in prescriptions could be down to a combination of money problems and the fact the stigma of depression is beginning to lift.

Ms O'Neill said said: "There is an increase in the number of people suffering from depression. GPs are better at diagnosing it than before, and there is now a better access to treatment than ever, but there is a higher number of people with depression than there was before.

"The financial strain on many people has never been worse. They are worried about their spiralling bills and where the next meal is coming from. It can make you feel very down, and it soon becomes a cycle.

"Depression also causes loneliness, which can be fatal. Sufferers need to take it seriously and not ignore the signs. There is no 'one size fits all' in depression, but everyone should have access to the right treatment through their GP."

One 28-year-old sufferer from Manchester, who gave her name as Caitlin, has struggled with mental health problems since adolescence.

But financial problems in the last year have made it worse and she has recently been prescribed anti-depressants.

Caitlin is now living on benefits totalling £140 a week, but the cost of her mortgage and other bills far outstrips this. It means she has built up debts of £10,000.

She told the BBC: "I was getting letters every day, phone calls and even emails saying I owned money. I was under enormous stress and it contributed to me having problems sleeping, it affected my appetite, and I just generally felt very low. I feel like I'm stuck in a cycle I can't get out of."

Caitlin used to work in a residential care home for children, but has been out of work for 12 months.

She is currently doing voluntary work and studying, but has given up on getting a job in the immediate future because of the cuts to public services.

"I like working with people, but you have to disclose any mental problems you've had, and there is still a lot of stigma attached to it. They think it's problematic, and it affects the judgments people make about you," she said.

Care services minister Paul Burstow said yesterday: "The last recession has left many people facing tough times. If people do experience mental health problems, the NHS is well placed to help.

"We're boosting funding for talking therapies by £400 million over the next four years.

"This will ensure that modern, evidence-based therapies are available to all who need them, whether their depression or anxiety are caused by economic worries or anything else."