Lockdown fallout: Antidepressant use has hit an at all-time high as COVID lockdowns take toll on UK’s mental health



Exclusive: more than 6m people receive drugs as experts warn of Covid pandemic’s effects on mental health

Calls to mental health helplines and prescriptions for antidepressants have reached an all-time high, while access to potentially life-saving talking therapies has plunged during the coronavirus pandemic, a Guardian investigation has found.

More than 6 million people in England received antidepressants in the three months to September, part of a wider trend and the highest figure on record.

The fall in referrals to NHS psychological therapies services (IAPT) is thought to have been down to counselling services going online, which some doctors have deemed inappropriate for certain patients, while some patients were reluctant to seek face-to-face help or add extra pressure to health services.

Concerns have been raised that vital early intervention treatment will not have been given, with experts saying the longer people wait for appropriate help the “more severe and complex their difficulties and their lives can become”.

Lucy Schonegevel, the deputy campaigns director at the mental health charity Rethink, said there was a “big risk of antidepressants being prescribed with no support”, adding that such medications should “go hand in hand” with therapy.

Her concerns were echoed by the mental health campaigner Natasha Devon, who said: “People are going to their GPs with symptoms of mental illness and being sent away with a bag of medication, having been put on an 18-month waiting list.”

Dr Esther Cohen-Tovée, who is chair of the British Psychological Society’s division of clinical psychology, said: “I’m shocked and extremely concerned about the massive extent of the reduction in referrals for psychological help during a time of huge anxiety, stress and distress for the whole population. This is even more concerning when there has been a huge increase in the prescription of antidepressants.”