How antidepressants have taken hold in the UK in one harrowing chart

Foundation campaigning for mental health hotline

A total of 8.3 million patients in England were prescribed antidepressants during the financial year ending in 2022, according to NHS data. 

This means a million more people got on the drugs over the past five years – a 13 percent hike.

Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at mental health charity Mind, said: “We know that the UK’s national mental health is still recovering from Covid-19, with Office for National Statistics (ONS) ratings for all measures of well-being stuck below pre-pandemic levels, and the cost-of-living crisis continuing to take its toll.”

Pharmacists handed out 82.6 million prescription items last year, a 10.4 percent increase on the year leading up to the pandemic. has plotted this rapid uptake – the causes and consequences of which are yet to be fully understood by the medical community.

The most common type of antidepressant prescribed in the UK are SSRIs – Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors – such as Prozac and Cipramil.

They are thought to work by increasing levels of serotonin – the messenger chemical for happiness – in the brain, and bear fewer side effects than most other antidepressant types.

They are generally prescribed in combination with talking therapy, and for a treatment course of six months. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych): “Long-term use of antidepressants should only be considered for people that have recurrent depression and repeated, severe relapses after stopping antidepressants.”

A report by the BBC has now found that more than a quarter of all patients on antidepressants in England – around two million people – have been taking them for five years.

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Mr Buckley added: “People decide to take antidepressants for lots of different reasons. They might be one of the nearly 2 million people stuck on a waiting list for mental health treatment, or even part of the 8 million who have been deemed ineligible to get any support at all (even though they still need it).

“Whatever the complex reasons are behind more antidepressant prescriptions, 5 years is a long time to be on any medication.”

The debate over how effective the drugs actually are has been raging for years. The latest research by the University of Oxford suggests they do help many, at least in the short term. Over longer periods, they have been linked to health risks such as heart problems and diabetes, with the risks of withdrawal symptoms also going up.

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The RCPsych adds: “Medicine continuously evolves, as does our knowledge of treating mental illness. As a result, the College updates its guidance, and ensures it is made accessible to stakeholders and healthcare professionals, when new evidence comes to light.

“Over the last 30 years our understanding of how different types of antidepressants work and the variation in side effects has grown considerably.

“We advise all those thinking of stopping their antidepressants to talk to their doctor first, as these medications should not be stopped abruptly.”

When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at [email protected], or visit to find your nearest branch. Anyone in an emergency situation should call 999 first.

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