Brexit linked to a rise in antidepressant use, study finds

The number of antidepressants prescribed in England rose after the United Kingdom's vote to leave the Europe...

Posted: Nov 21, 2018 5:40 AM
Updated: Nov 21, 2018 5:40 AM

The number of antidepressants prescribed in England rose after the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union in 2016, a new study finds.

The researchers believe that this may be due to uncertainty over the future of the country and say more health services should be made available.

Antidepressants

Brexit

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Continents and regions

Depression

Diseases and disorders

Elections and campaigns

Europe

European Union

Government and public administration

Government organizations - Intl

Health and medical

Mental health

Mental illnesses

Northern Europe

Pharmaceutical industry

Pharmaceuticals and biotechnology

Pharmaceuticals and prescription drugs

Politics

Referendums

United Kingdom

Austerity

Economic policy

Economy and economic indicators

Anxiety disorders

England

Post traumatic stress disorder

But experts the link to Brexit and instead believe that wider austerity in the country could be an underlying factor.

Researchers at King's College London and Harvard University wanted to examine whether the Brexit vote, deciding whether the UK would leave the European Union, on June 23, 2016, had any effect on mental health in England, as previous studies have looked at economic uncertainty and major social events affecting people's health and mental well-being.

The researchers looked at monthly prescribing data for each July from 2011 through 2016 for all 326 voting areas in England. They analyzed antidepressant prescriptions and compared them with prescriptions for drugs treating conditions unlikely to be influenced by uncertainty or depression, such as gout, iron deficiency and thyroid problems.

Both groups showed an increase every year before the referendum. But antidepressant prescriptions continued to increase after the vote, albeit at a slower rate than before, while other drugs experienced a decrease.

Antidepressant prescriptions rose 13.4% faster than the other drugs monitored, according to the study, published Tuesday in the BMJ.

"This study adds to previous studies that show that events at the national level can have an effect on people's mental health or mood," said Sotiris Vandoros, senior lecturer in health economics at King's Business School and lead author on the study.

Vandoros believes that the Brexit referendum may have triggered the increase in antidepressant prescriptions.

But the findings are open to interpretation, as they are based on trends and can't prove causation, Vandoros added, nor do they imply an overall increase in depression for the entire country.

The study instead shows that "people who were negatively affected by the referendum and might have started feeling worse" ended up driving an increase in antidepressants, he said.

The main cause of worry around Brexit is the question of what will happen afterward. Other causes of stress include economic uncertainty, job opportunities, companies relocating and whether EU nationals will have the opportunity to stay in the UK.

"All this uncertainty is going to cause people stress and anxiety and worry, and some people might end up feeling more depressed due to this," Vandoros said.

The trend shows that for some people, the referendum could be linked to a worsening of mental health, he said. However, others also became happier after the vote, and this development just isn't captured in antidepressant prescriptions.

It's hard to explain why there was a drop in prescriptions for other classes of drugs compared with antidepressants, Vandoros said. One possible reason is that people were distracted after the Brexit vote and had less time to see their doctors and fill their prescriptions.

Vandoros added that in this scenario, people's distraction should have led to a decrease in antidepressants, which was not seen. "But possibly, all this uncertainty and depression balanced out that effect," he said.

Previous research by Vandoros found an increase in traffic accidents the first two days after austerity measure announcements, such as salary and pension cuts, for reasons such as increased anxiety, stress and sleep deprivation.

Seeking help

"Clearly, it's very difficult to make a concrete link between Brexit and antidepressant use," said Ian David Cummins, senior lecturer in social work at Salford University, who was not involved in the study. He believes that this is because Brexit in itself is a very complicated event, but depression and why people are seeking advice and medication are also complex matters.

Cummins added that the study needs to put the Brexit vote in the context of more widespread austerity and growing inequality in the UK.

"Austerity is a huge driver" of a lot of concerns, said Cummins, who published a research paper this year on the effects of austerity on mental health. Cummins' report concluded that austerity and associated policies in the UK have increased the overall burden of mental distress.

A recent UN report stated that austerity in the UK has contributed to 14 million people, one-fifth of the population, living in poverty.

People could be seeking help due to a range of reasons, including welfare service reductions, greater pressure at work or from housing pressures, Cummins explained.

Kamaldeep S. Bhui, professor of cultural psychiatry and epidemiology at Queen Mary University of London, pointed out that the study mainly looked at antidepressant prescriptions, which is "not a perfect method" to measure mental health.

Antidepressant monitoring data is not very accurate, and there are many reasons people may take such drugs, explained Bhui, who was not involved in the new research.

Allan Young, professor of mood disorders at the King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry Psychology & Neuroscience, noted that "antidepressant prescriptions have risen in England consistently over recent years, and these data may simply reflect that rather than one single event."

"It should be noted that antidepressants are prescribed to treat anxiety disorders as well as mood disorders, and it is credible that people may be more anxious because of recent uncertainty in society," said Young, who was not involved in the research.

"Levels of anxiety across the population were not reported in this study so cannot be shown explicitly," he added.

Money and mental health

Uncertainty is widespread globally. A Deutsche Bank report from January states that economic policy uncertainty in Europe has risen to "extraordinarily high levels."

People whose mental health is most affected by uncertainty are usually lacking a safety net of financial or emotional support through friends or family, Vandoros said.

One in four British adults who has a mental health problem also has problems with debt, according to UK charity Money and Mental Health. Nearly a quarter -- 24% -- of people experiencing depression or anxiety are in problem debt, the charity says. The mental health impacts of financial difficulties are wide-ranging, including anxiety, insomnia and substance abuse.

"Fear of losing your job is a major predictor of poorer mental health," Vandoros said.

Therefore, the new study fits into a larger body of evidence showing that mental health, mood and well-being can be affected by national events like elections, he said.

The researchers urge that "policies supporting mental health should be intensified in periods of uncertainty," as events such as Brexit also affect psychological well-being, which in turn impacts economic performance and social cohesion.

Bhui said that the study is an "important signal" and that "politicians need to be more careful about decision-making, as it can affect health."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 483790

Reported Deaths: 6543
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1003791583
Ramsey42945800
Dakota36091387
Anoka33200384
Washington21986254
Stearns18703200
St. Louis14746262
Scott13209107
Wright12489115
Olmsted1176188
Sherburne869772
Carver765240
Clay688887
Rice667191
Blue Earth591035
Kandiyohi578474
Crow Wing518381
Chisago496844
Otter Tail481370
Benton444890
Winona416649
Mower402731
Douglas392268
Nobles386547
Goodhue384468
Polk342262
McLeod338349
Beltrami336751
Morrison323547
Lyon312444
Itasca311646
Becker309941
Isanti305354
Carlton299848
Steele299211
Pine281916
Freeborn279823
Nicollet256041
Todd246330
Brown243537
Le Sueur233920
Mille Lacs226747
Cass219124
Waseca208617
Meeker206934
Martin188228
Wabasha18613
Roseau179617
Hubbard160640
Houston157114
Dodge15154
Renville149040
Redwood146527
Fillmore13708
Chippewa135935
Cottonwood134520
Pennington131816
Wadena130220
Faribault122716
Aitkin118733
Sibley117110
Watonwan11708
Rock115614
Kanabec107319
Pipestone101424
Yellow Medicine97617
Murray9438
Jackson93310
Swift87918
Pope8025
Marshall77615
Stevens7398
Lake73518
Clearwater71914
Lac qui Parle68216
Wilkin66910
Koochiching61711
Big Stone5163
Lincoln5052
Grant4908
Norman4768
Unassigned44568
Mahnomen4417
Kittson40821
Red Lake3625
Traverse3025
Lake of the Woods2161
Cook1180

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 361499

Reported Deaths: 5412
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58007549
Linn20606312
Scott18279207
Black Hawk16223290
Woodbury14924211
Johnson1380473
Dubuque13522194
Dallas1132690
Pottawattamie10762143
Story1018945
Warren553474
Clinton542484
Cerro Gordo532781
Webster517687
Marshall495572
Sioux493469
Buena Vista472736
Des Moines457061
Muscatine450691
Wapello4314108
Jasper416266
Plymouth394277
Lee374752
Marion358469
Jones294354
Henry293037
Carroll285348
Bremer279154
Crawford273435
Boone259130
Washington253747
Benton252054
Mahaska223846
Jackson221138
Dickinson217238
Tama212965
Kossuth208154
Clay193125
Hamilton191942
Delaware188639
Winneshiek188427
Buchanan184629
Fayette184335
Page182619
Hardin180839
Wright179531
Harrison179469
Cedar177023
Clayton168053
Butler165831
Mills162820
Floyd162740
Madison154018
Poweshiek153630
Cherokee153535
Hancock146729
Lyon145941
Allamakee144946
Iowa144223
Grundy138830
Appanoose138647
Jefferson138232
Winnebago137730
Calhoun133311
Cass133351
Mitchell130640
Louisa128341
Union126331
Chickasaw124813
Sac124218
Emmet120940
Shelby120433
Franklin118419
Humboldt117225
Guthrie116228
Palo Alto104921
Montgomery103936
Howard102821
Clarke100320
Unassigned9850
Keokuk97829
Monroe93128
Adair91928
Ida90832
Pocahontas85219
Davis82523
Monona81527
Greene76910
Lucas73221
Osceola70314
Worth6947
Taylor66312
Fremont5869
Decatur5749
Van Buren56018
Ringgold51820
Wayne48721
Audubon4869
Adams3264
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Mostly Cloudy
21° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 19°
Feels Like: 13°
Mason City
Clear
19° wxIcon
Hi: 35° Lo: 19°
Feels Like: 7°
Albert Lea
Partly Cloudy
19° wxIcon
Hi: 35° Lo: 18°
Feels Like: 11°
Albert Lea
Partly Cloudy
19° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 18°
Feels Like: 11°
Charles City
Partly Cloudy
19° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 19°
Feels Like: 9°
Tracking a cool start to the work week then a big warm-up!
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Grizzlies clinch playoff spot

Image

Sex trafficking bill

Image

Vigil for Rochester crash victim

Image

Sara's Sunday Night Forecast

Image

Sara's Sunday Evening Forecast

Image

Cardboard sled race

Image

Sara's Saturday Night Forecast

Image

Bleu Duck local food market

Image

Aaron's Saturday Forecast

Image

Lake City athlete inspires community, experiences unforgettable senior night

Community Events