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Antidepressant use in over-65s doubles in two decades

But the prevalence of depression has barely changed

The proportion of people aged over 65 on antidepressants has more than doubled in two decades, a study shows.

In the early 90s 4.2% of older people were receiving anti-depressant medication, but this increased to 10.7% two decades later.

The research, led by the University of East Anglia (UEA), reveals that despite a rise in antidepressant use there has been little change in the number of older people diagnosed with depression. The estimated prevalence of depression among over 65s in the early 1990s was 7.9 per cent, compared to 6.8 per cent 20 years later.

The authors suggested the increase in the use of antidepressants could be due to improved recognition and treatment of depression, overprescribing, or use of antidepressants for other conditions.

The study’s lead investigator Prof Carol Brayne, director of the Cambridge Institute of Public Health, said research has previously shown a dramatic age-for-age drop in dementia occurrence across generations.

“This new work reveals that depression has not shown the same reduction even in the presence of dramatically increased prescribing, itself not without concern given potential adverse effects we have also shown that are associated with polypharmacy,” she stated.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the findings could indicate a greater awareness and acceptance of mental health conditions in society, and show more people over 65 are seeking help for mental health problems which in the past may have been ignored or under-treated.

“We also have much better understanding of the effectiveness of antidepressants than we did in the early 90s – and it’s important to remember that current evidence shows these drugs work well when prescribed appropriately,” she stated. “GPs will only prescribe anti-depressants after a full and frank conversation with their patient, taking into account the physical, psychological and social factors potentially impacting on their health.”

Stokes-Lampard added that the findings also highlight a worrying link between mental health and social determinates of health, such as deprivation.