Both the number of antidepressants prescribed and the number of patients taking the drugs has risen for the sixth year in a row in England, the latest NHS figures show.

According to the an annual report on mental health prescriptions statistics, 83.4 million antidepressant drug items were prescribed in 2021/22, a 5% rise from the previous year.

The NHS Business Services Authority said the number of patients identified as receiving a prescription for an antidepressant also rose to 8.32 million – an almost 6% increase from 2020/21.

Figures from the report also showed that since 2015/16 there has been a 35% rise in antidepressant prescribing.

Data for those under the age of 17 years also shows rising levels of prescribing with more than 71,000 patients given at least one prescription, a rise of 9% from the year before.

An analysis of  shows that almost two-third of patients prescribed antidepressants are female and double the number of patients were prescribed them in the most deprived practices compared to the least deprived.

Drugs used for ADHD and other CNS stimulants showed a 16% rise from 2020/21, the report noted, with an 18% rise in the number of patients who had been prescribed them.

Other figures showed ongoing but small increases in the prescribing of antipsychotic medicines as well as a small rise in drugs for dementia but a fall in prescribing of hypnotic and anxiolytic drugs.

NICE guidance on depression published this month advocated a wider choice of treatments and a move away from antidepressants in people whose condition is ‘less severe’. 

It also contains stronger warnings on the risk of withdrawal symptoms with use of antidepressants and the need for careful tapering and monitoring when patients are stopping treatment.

For those whose condition is defined as ‘less severe’ – previously termed mild depression – a wider range of other therapies should be tried ahead of medication, NICE recommends.

The guidelines had been subject to a lengthy consultation and redrafting process after concerns were raised about failure to take into account patient experience of treatments.

In May, The Pharmacist reported that researchers are being urged to prioritise investigation into the potential use of statins to manage depression, after new evidence suggested they may ‘promote emotional resilience’.

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