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By Sophie Borland

PUBLISHED:19:01 EST, 31 July  2012 | UPDATED:19:43  EST, 31 July 2012

Record numbers of adults are relying on Prozac  and other so-called happy pills, according to NHS figures

Almost 50million prescriptions were handed  out by doctors last year – a rise of nine per cent compared with the previous 12  months.

Experts said increasing numbers of patients  are turning to GPs for help as depression loses its stigma.

At the same time, doctors are more inclined  to give people a proper diagnosis and prescribe medication, rather than simply  sending them away.

The figures, from the NHS Information Centre,  show the health service spent £270million handing out such drugs in 2011, a rise  of more than a fifth compared with 2010.

Last year, just under 47million prescriptions  were handed out, a nine per cent increase compared with the previous year.

But campaigners say doctors are sometimes too  eager to prescribe antidepressants when there are other treatments available,  such as counselling.

There is evidence that one-to-one therapy or  group sessions are just as effective as drugs – but far less expensive. They  also help address the cause of the illness – such as grief or lack of confidence – and, unlike drugs, do not have unpleasant side effects such as insomnia or  sickness.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental  health charity SANE, said: ‘The rise in antidepressant prescriptions does not  necessarily mean that GPs are diagnosing more people with depression, but that  people are being treated for longer periods on repeat prescriptions.

‘The longer-term rise may also in part  reflect a greater willingness of people to seek help when concerned about their  mental health.

‘Antidepressants are also being used for a  wider range of mental health problems, such as anxiety.’

Campaigners say doctors are sometimes too eager to prescribe antidepressants when there are other treatments available, such as counselling (posed by model)Campaigners say doctors are sometimes too eager to  prescribe antidepressants when there are other treatments available, such as  counselling (posed by model)

The most commonly-used antidepressants are  Prozac and Seroxat, which work by changing the levels of certain chemicals in  the brain.

But they may not be as effective as  previously thought, with some research finding they only benefit half of all  patients.

There is growing evidence Britain is becoming  a nation of pill poppers, with millions spent on an array of treatments. Earlier  this year, figures obtained through Freedom of Information requests showed the  NHS was spending £50million a year on sleeping pills.

This is a rise of a sixth in only three  years.

Referring to the figures for antidepressants,  a spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘The rise in prescriptions of  antidepressants does not necessarily mean a rise in patients.

‘For example, shorter but more frequent  prescriptions allow medication to be reviewed and can cut down  wastage.

‘People are becoming more aware of depression  as a treatable condition and doctors are also more alert to its signs and  symptoms.

‘The most suitable care for patients is a  clinical decision. Talking therapies are increasingly available alongside or as  an alternative to medication.

‘Funding for talking therapies will be  boosted by £400million over the next four years and this will directly benefit  3.2million people

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