Antidepressant prescriptions rose after Brexit referendum

PUBLISHED: 23:30 20 November 2018

Antidepressants prescribed in England rose after the EU referendum

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The number of antidepressants prescribed in England rose after the EU referendum compared with other drugs, a study says.

National events, such as elections and financial crises, can affect mental health, researchers said.

So they set out to examine whether there was a rise in antidepressant prescriptions in England after the Brexit referendum in June 2016.

Relative to other drug classes included in the study, there was a significant rise during the month after Britain opted to leave the European Union.

Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the authors suggested the finding may be attributed to "increased uncertainty for some parts of the population".

They said that more should be done to promote mental wellbeing during times of "economic uncertainty or political upheaval".

Their study examined whether prescriptions for antidepressants increased after the referendum result, benchmarking them against other drugs.

Using GP practice prescribing data, the authors from King's College London and Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in the US compiled the number of defined daily doses per capita every month in each of the 326 voting areas in England between 2011-2016.

They compared antidepressant prescriptions to prescriptions for iron and anti-gout drugs - chosen because they were "unlikely to be associated with uncertainty and depression".

The researchers found that antidepressant prescribing continued to increase after the referendum but at a slower pace than noticed in previous years.

But compared to prescriptions of the other drugs studied, there was a relative increase of 13.4% in antidepressants.

They said the growth could be attributed to increased uncertainty for some "but it does not rule out a possible improvement in mood for others".

"There are alternative possible explanations, and we cannot be sure that this relative increase in antidepressants is due to the referendum result," they added, stressing that the results should be treated with "caution".

Meanwhile, effects were not different between areas which largely voted to leave or remain in the EU.

"This relative increase in antidepressant prescribing after the referendum may be attributed to increased uncertainty for certain parts of the population, but does not rule out an improvement in mood for others," the researchers concluded.

"Alternatively, some other factor - for example, distraction, might have contributed to a decrease in the control therapeutic classes.

"A possible policy implication is that programmes for the promotion of mental health may need to be intensified during periods of uncertainty."

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