NHS doctors are over-prescribing pills, not therapy, for older people with depression

A review published in the British Journal of General Practice has shown that GPs are too readily prescribing antidepressants to older individuals who are struggling with depression.

antidepressant pillsDragana Gordic | Shutterstock

The study found that older people were far more likely to be prescribed pills, rather than talking therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

There needs to be greater access to talking therapies. They are effective in older populations, but we know that GPs are less likely to refer those in their 80s to psychological therapies for depressive symptoms than those in their 50s and 60s.”

Rachael Frost, Lead Author

According to the findings, of 1.4 million people referred to the NHS for talking therapy between 2017 and 2018, only 6.3% were aged over 65.

People in this age group were twice as likely to be prescribed antidepressants, compared with younger individuals.

Those older than 85 were five times less likely to be referred for therapy than those aged 55 to 59 and in some areas, as few as 3.5% of those aged over 65 had been referred.

These figures once again show that older people are missing out on talking therapies and other effective treatments for mental health conditions, with medication too often being the prescribed approach.”

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK

Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs says that while antidepressants can be effective, patients generally do not want to be taking medication on a long-term basis and GPs do not want that either:

"We will always try to explore alternative therapies, such as CBT and talking therapies, but access to these therapies in the community is patchy across the country – and there is also a lack of variety, to allow us to match these services to the specific needs of our patients.”

Abrahams says older people must not miss out on help and treatment simply because they are not offered it.

“Talking therapies can benefit everyone, regardless of age,” she concludes.

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally has a Bachelor's Degree in Biomedical Sciences (B.Sc.). She is a specialist in reviewing and summarising the latest findings across all areas of medicine covered in major, high-impact, world-leading international medical journals, international press conferences and bulletins from governmental agencies and regulatory bodies. At News-Medical, Sally generates daily news features, life science articles and interview coverage.

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