Free antidepressants and prescription drugs to be reviewed


This week concerns have been raised over free antidepressants and pain killers. A leading charity has stated that the death rate from prescription drugs is rising and has called for free prescriptions in Wales to be reviewed.

Clive Wolfendale, chief executive, of Cais, a charity which helps people with addiction and mental health issues spoke to BBC Radio Wales following the release of a report by the Home Affairs Select Committee. He said “As the report points out the death rate is increasing among this (prescription drugs) category and in Wales it is twice the UK average – very worrying.

“We are talking here about anti-depressants and pain killers that are being misused for purposes other than medicinal.

“And they’re freely available and in Wales they’re free and that’s a real problem.”

Free antidepressants: Over prescribed

What this report reminds us of once again is that antidepressants are being hugely over prescribed. Last year figures showed that approximately 47 million prescriptions were issued for antidepressants which was a 9% increase on the year before which is frankly shocking.


What makes it worse is that the National institute for Health and Clinical excellence (NICE) have recommended that GP s should only prescribe antidepressant medication for severe cases of depression. 

Free antidepressants: The Cycle

Unfortunately users of antidepressants often become trapped in the cycle of taking them for many years when their problems could have been helped with a talking therapy.

Sarah- Jane was first prescribed antidepressant meds for depression when she was 16-years-old and still at school. At the time she thought she would only be on them for a short while. Her GP kept her under review but didn’t suggest stopping the medication or exploring other options.

Two years later Sarah-Jane approached her doctor about stopping her medication. Her GP helped her to gradually reduce the antidepressants but Sarah-Jane was blind-sided by all the nasty side effects she experienced. “The unbelievable dizziness was the worst thing,” she said.

Sarah-Jane persevered until she was off the antidepressants however approximately a year later her depression had returned. Sarah-Jane was now at university and had a different doctor. She asked to be referred for therapy. Her GP agreed but said it would be months until she could get an appointment. Since Sarah-Jane needed help immediately he also gave her a prescription for antidepressants.

Sarah-Jane moved before her appointment for therapy came through. “I didn’t follow up the idea of therapy because to be honest the antidepressants were letting me live a normal life. My new GP said it was OK to stay on a low dose for the rest of my life if that’s what I needed. She said some people just had an imbalance which needed correcting.”

Free antidepressants: Considering therapy

Sarah-Jane stayed on antidepressants until she met her husband to be when she was 30. “He was very supportive but felt I ought to address the problems underlying my depression. I realised he was right and the thought that I might be able to live without medication after all these years was great. I knew the tablets dulled my senses and made me extra sleepy.

“I spoke to my doctor and explained my situation and why I felt the need to try therapy. My doctor agreed and recommended a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) which is a talking therapy. It’s a process but I’m no longer on antidepressants and feel I have the knowledge and tools to deal with the thoughts and behaviours that used to lead to my depression.”

Free antidepressants: Addressing the cause

Antidepressants have their place but they don’t help the patient address the cause of the problem. For that you need therapy.

In Sarah-Jane’s case the initial wait for therapy was unacceptable. Once you decide to get started with therapy it’s understandable that you want to get started right away. Sometimes waiting lists to see a therapist are long but there are other options.

Free antidepressants: Computerised CBT

There are free cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) exercises online and complete computerised CBT programs which you can access from home such as Blues Begone and Mood Control.

Research has shown that Blues Begone was able to remove  60% of users from the clinical depression category (they were cured) and 50% of users from the clinical anxiety category (cured of anxiety). In addition it helped others make substantial clinical gains.

By taking your recovery in to your own hands you also gain a sense of empowerment. Frank who recently completed a course of CBT said, “Things have been tough over the last few months. My contract came to an end and I’ve been unable to find permanent work. Before CBT I would have sunk in to a depression but this time I haven’t and I don’t think I ever will again because of what I have learned.”

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