'It was pills or nothing': Norfolk's reliance on antidepressants revealed
- Credit: Danielle Booden
The rate at which antidepressants are being prescribed in Norfolk and Waveney is one of the highest in the country - despite health bosses saying they should be used as a last resort.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says patients with mild to moderate symptoms of depression should first be referred to therapy - with GPs ideally turning to antidepressants only if symptoms become severe.
In Norfolk and Waveney, however, sufferers suggest antidepressants are often the "go to" solution, with numbers rising last year by 4pc.
Out of 135 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England, Norfolk and Waveney handed out the 15th highest number of antidepressant prescriptions per head of population between April 2020 and March this year. It was surpassed only by a handful of areas in the north.
GPs here issued 189,699 antidepressant prescriptions per every 100,000 people - well over the national average of 137,000.
A CCG spokesperson said there were "complex and wide-ranging issues" surrounding the prescribing of antidepressants.
'I poured my heart out'
Nadia, a 22-year-old Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) graduate, said she felt it was antidepressants or nothing when she went to her GP for help with her depression in September 2019.
She was put on an 100mg dose immediately and said she was not contacted again.
"I poured my heart out to the doctor and said how much I desperately wanted therapy," she said. "But the Wellbeing Service rejected me and told me there was a waiting list of two years.
"I was completely abandoned, and eventually just stopped taking the pills because they made me feel horrible.
"I've since learned to adjust to this depressive mindset because you know you’ll probably never get the help you need.
"GPs aren't equipped to deal with this stuff, specialists have huge waiting lists and absolutely everything is underfunded.
"Antidepressants are the go-to fix. And once you hear there's a two-year waiting list for therapy you think: 'What's the point?'."
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'On the verge of suicide'
Fellow NUA student Lois, 22, has made progress with their mental health over the last year - but it's been an arduous process, and again involved doctors trying to issue antidepressants as the first port of call.
They said: "About this time last year I was referred to a GP because I was showing depressive and psychotic tendencies. Straight away they offered me antidepressants, but because of my family history of schizophrenia and psychosis I didn't want them.
"Instead they made me do a mood diary, but nobody got back to me after I handed it in.
"They only took me seriously when I delivered a hand-written letter to my GP telling them I was on the verge of suicide."
Lois got a letter two weeks later saying they had been referred to a mental health specialist within the NHS, but it wasn't until October that the specialist got in touch, and January of this year they were referred to a psychiatrist.
They said: "I ended up being diagnosed with manic depression, delayed sleep phase disorder and complex PTSD, but all I was told to do was complete another mood diary.
"In March, I rang the psychiatrist saying I was on the verge of doing something horrible. I couldn't cope anymore. I wasn't sleeping but I couldn't get out of bed.
"Eventually I was put on anti-psychotics and given therapy. I do feel better now, but it took over a year to get me here."
'Sent away with list of books'
KP, a 20-year-old student, has also had a turbulent relationship with mental health - but she found doctors routinely undermined the seriousness of what she was going through.
She said: "I actually found it really hard to get meds when I needed them. I didn't understand what I had to do to convince my GP.
"I've had depression for years now and self-harmed as a teenager, but during the pandemic in September last year I had a really bad episode and was thinking about ending it.
"My friend called for help and I was referred to a NHS mental health specialist. I told her everything, but was sent on my way with a list of books I should read to change my thinking.
"A couple of weeks later I was on the verge of killing myself, and after literally begging for help I was finally given some medication.
“I ended up getting therapy through uni and they were the ones who referred me to the Wellbeing service and pushed for my PTSD diagnosis. I had to turn to them when the doctors weren't listening."
In response to the figures, a spokesperson for the CCG said the recruitment of new mental health support workers would help provide additional access to talking therapies and strengthen the Wellbeing service.
Karen Lince, deputy clinical lead for the service, encouraged anyone who felt they could benefit from therapy to self-refer.
She said: "During depression, we suffer from physical changes and chemical imbalances in the brain, and antidepressants work to alleviate those.
"But if you ever wanted to come off the tablets in the future and find a different way to manage your depression, talking therapies help address situations long-term by tackling vicious cycles of thought."
Ms Lince said people can expect their first advisory session with a psychologist within two weeks.
She added patients usually participate in online workshops and guided self-help within a few weeks - but should expect at least a three-month wait for therapy after that.
You can self refer at: wellbeingnands.co.uk/norfolk/reach-out/ or call 0300 123 1503
For urgent help, the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust runs a 24-hour helpline on 0808 196 3494
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