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People on antidepressants need more support, mental health campaigners say

The record number of people taking antidepressants should receive greater support and advice on potential side effects, mental health campaigners have said.

Doctors are prescribing more antidepressants than ever before, with some 64.7 million prescriptions written in England last year - almost twice as many handed out as a decade ago.

Experts claim this figure is partly due to a greater willingness to admit problems and success in breaking down the stigma around mental health.

But patients, psychiatrists and a leading mental health charity say people are not being warned about the potential impact on key areas of their lives, including their work, sex life and close relationships.

Michelle Lloyd was prescribed antidepressants while experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression at university. She described the weeks that followed as "horrendous".

"I felt nauseous and couldn't eat and lost a lot of weight," the 32-year-old told ITV News.

"I found my anxiety levels increased and I became more detached from everyday activities because I felt so physically unwell. I then went on to have a period of self-harming - something that I had never done or even thought about before.

"I was petrified about what was happening to me - these tablets that were supposed to be making me feel better were making me feel worse and I didn't know what to do."

64.7m
the number of antidepressants dispensed in England in 2016 - NHS Digital
60%
people taking them felt the drugs affected at least one key area of their life - Mind survey 2017
48%
said they had been given enough information about the side effects - Mind survey 2017

Dr Roland Zahn, a consultant psychiatrist, argues that a shortage of GPs combined with an increasing workload meant doctors struggled to dedicate the appropriate time to discuss medication with patients.

"There are not enough resources in the NHS at the moment - particularly for mental health and particularly for depression. GPs are forced into a 10-minute consultation. It's very challenging to get all the information in.

"In Michelle's case, it was hard for her to get follow-up appointments which is another problem so it's not so much about the training of GPs but it's about time and how things are organised."

He also believes more research is needed into which pills work best for which patient, to move away from what some describe as a "trial and error" system for those trying antidepressants.

Ms Lloyd, who has now been taking medication for more than seven years, believes GPs need to be given more time - and knowledge - when making decisions on antidepressants.

"It feels like they are given far too readily when it might be that someone could benefit from another source of support in the first instance," she said.

"I don't feel GP's have enough specialist knowledge around mental health to be able to make that snap decision in a five-minute consultation.

"How much do GPs themselves really know about the drugs they are handing out? I've been sat in the consultation room twice now where the GP has had to Google the medication to see whether it's appropriate - that doesn't fill me with a great deal of confidence and I can't imagine the same thing happening for any other health concern."

Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, told ITV News: “We can assure our patients that GPs will always prescribe in the best interests of the individual patient in front of us, taking into account the physical, psychological and social factors that might be impacting on their health."

  • If you are in distress or need some support, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day on 116 123 or through their website