Rates of antidepressant prescribing are continuing to rise and have been above expected levels since the Covid-19 pandemic began, NHS data shows.

There were 20.8 million antidepressant drugs prescribed in England from July to September 2021, a 1.28% increase from the previous quarter, and a 6.15% increase from the 19.6 million items prescribed in the same months in 2020/21.

Figures from the NHS Business Services Authority also show that in the 19-month period since the pandemic lockdown measures began, there were 1.54 million more antidepressant prescription items issued than expected based on historical trends.

The NHSBSA Medicines Used in Mental Health report did note this increase was not statistically significant.

In October, NICE draft guidance went out for consultation recommending that prescribers do not routinely offer patients with ‘less severe’ depression antidepressants as the first line of treatment.

A month later draft guidance was published by NICE on stopping antidepressant prescriptions, noting that patients may require support from their pharmacist for months if they are experiencing severe side effects of withdrawal.

For the second quarter in a row drugs prescribed for dementia also showed an upward trend, the report said, with a 2.53% increase.

But figures also show that there had been a drop off in prescription of the drugs during the pandemic.

In the 19-month period from March 2020 to September 2021, 6.42 million drugs for dementia items were prescribed in England – 606,000 or 8.63% fewer than the 7.03 million items expected based on historical trends, the NHSBSA said.

‘This decrease also falls outside of the expected range of values, showing a statistically significant decrease in prescribing of drugs for dementia in this period when compared to expected values,’ the report said.

A version of this story was first published on our sister website, Pulse.