By RACHEL REILLY
The use of antidepressant medication in the UK has increased five-fold since 1991, new data reveals.
It also showed that the use of such drugs had increased by 20 per cent each year across Europe over a similar period.
This increase in uptake across Europe was found to have coincided with a gradual decline in suicide rates.
Experts said that data collected over past 30 years provides ‘strong evidence’ that antidepressants are playing a key role in treatment strategies for depression
Between 1995 and 2009, the use of antidepressants across Europe increased by almost 20 per cent per year on average, with a corresponding 0.8 per cent annual reduction in the suicide rate.
Researchers, including David McDaid from the London School of Economics and Political Science, said that data collected from 29 European countries over three decades provided ‘strong evidence’ that antidepressants are playing a key role in treatment strategies for depression.
The United Kingdom has recorded a five-fold increase (495 per cent) in the use of antidepressants since 1991 and a 14 per cent fall in suicide rates over the same period.
Icelanders are the heaviest users of anti-depressants with previous studies suggesting that almost nine per cent of the population take daily doses of medication, compared to just four per cent in Romania.
While suicide rates have fallen across Europe, suicide still remains a major public health problem in the EU countries, accounting for 60,000 deaths each year.
Lithuania has the highest current suicide rate followed by Hungary, while Greece, Italy and Spain are at the other end of the spectrum, with suicide rates the lowest in the EU.
Mr McDaid, an LSE mental health policy researcher, said the data showed that suicide rates had decreased more in countries where there had been a spike in the use of anti-depressants on a regular basis.
‘These findings underline the importance of the appropriate use of anti-depressants as part of routine care for people diagnosed with depression, therefore reducing the risk of suicide,’ he said.
‘The stigma surrounding antidepressants has decreased in line with improved awareness of mental health problems over the past 30 years, more counselling services and safer medication options.
‘Increased funding for mental health systems has also helped make anti-depressants more affordable and accessible,’ he added.
‘A decline in suicide rates cannot be linked directly to antidepressants but the evidence in support of them – when used appropriately – is pretty compelling,’ he added.