Sector News — 07 January 2014

Millions of patients are wrongly diagnosed with depression and needlessly   given antidepressant drugs when they are simply sad, a study warns.

Antidepressants are being handed out to people who are bereaved, suffering sexual problems or are unable to sleep, claims a scientific paper.

The number of people diagnosed with mental illnesses such as depression has   doubled since 2002. It is believed more than five million people are now   labelled depressed or suffering anxiety in the UK.

Chris Dowrick, Professor of Primary Medical Care at Liverpool University,   claims in a new report that up to half of these patients have been   misdiagnosed.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, the academic, who also works as a GP,   said: “Over-diagnosis is now more common than under-diagnosis.”

He has called for guidelines on diagnosing depression to be tightened and for   pharmaceutical companies to be banned from marketing their drugs to GPs.bigstockphoto_Prescription_Medications_2484425

“Over recent decades there has been an increasing tendency, especially in   primary care, to diagnose depression in patients presenting with sadness or

distress and offer them antidepressant  medication,” he wrote. “But these   pills won’t work for people with mild depression, or who are sad, but they   have side effects and we are seeing patients becoming reliant on drugs they   do not need.”

He added the problems began in the Eighties, when qualifying symptoms for   depression were lowered to include feeling sad or “down in the dumps” for   two weeks, or appetite change, sleep disturbance, drop in libido and   tiredness.

Dr Dowrick said these symptoms were so common that most people would have them   at some point in their lives. Despite extensive research and calls from   health professionals for the classification system to be revised, the   worldwide boom in the prescription of antidepressants has continued.

In the UK, sales of antidepressants have increased at a rate of 10 per cent   every year. Dr Dowrick and his team said drug companies had a part to play   in the problem of over-diagnosis. He criticised their strategies for   marketing drugs to treat mild depression and anxiety, encouraging them to be   seen as conditions that required medication.

He said: “Often doctors do not know how effective the drugs are because they   do not have full and accurate information on the research carried out by the   pharmaceutical companies.

“Drug companies should be stopped from marketing antidepressant medication to   physicians,” he wrote.

Mental health charities rejected his claim that depression is over-diagnosed.

Jenny Edwards, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “There   is an increase in depression and anxiety that GPs are seeing because of the   pressures people are facing from debt, unemployment and their effects on   people’s relationships.

“Diagnosing this as mental illness can be a crucial first step to help people   get assistance.”

A public accounts committee report  revealed that drug companies routinely   withhold results of clinical trials from doctors, leaving them poorly   informed about how to treat patients.

This article first appeared on ‘The Telegraph’ on 5 January 2014.


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