Wow. A headline on the radio last night caught me by surprise.
I started listening as the news report went on. There was a strong implication that the numbers taking such medication were on the rise, and there were too many people taking them. Somehow things were getting out of hand.
But the point was clear. Something needed to be done, there are too many people taking anti-depressants. Somehow the medical profession had failed, and even more so the people on these medications had also failed.
I have been taking mirtazapine for most of this year. I take it every night, which means I usually get a good sleep – something that was near impossible before I started taking them. I have tried other anti-depressants, and would like to live my life without them. Hopefully I will be able to in a year or so.
From wider studies, it is fair to assume that the number is somewhere around a quarter of the population (according to the Mental Health Foundation).
In the UK, we live in a society with pitiably ineffective health care facilities for those who are mentally ill. This is not surprising, since in large part public health as a whole is straining under a million pressures.
And within this, mental health care is very often one of the Cinderella areas. It is not sexy, it is rarely seen as a priority, and in large part most treatments for mental illness seem to come down to chemical interventions. When these work they are good, but there should be much more to mental health care.
So on that level, the rise in prescriptions for anti-depressants is a ‘depressing’ piece of news in itself. It would be great to hear that alternatives to drugs were being rolled out successfully to help the one in four who are made ill by mental health problems.
Otherwise it would like be saying that the treatment of infections shows an alarming rise in the number of antibiotics being given our, or the treatment of strokes shows an alarming rise in the number of people who are now given warfarin.
In both cases there are other things that can be done to help, as an avoidance of the medicine. Infections are also treated by good hygiene, which requires education and support for the implementation of effective procedures to ensure such hygiene (particularly in places such as hospitals). The avoidance of strokes also requires issues such as diet and exercise, no doubt.
And so we also need to find some way of avoiding the hyperbole and sensationalism around the subject. We should give a cautious welcome to news that we are managing to treat more people who are suffering from this illness.
(Photo credit: “Pristiq pills” by Tom Varco, Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)