With more than quarter of a million people suffering from depression in Wales every year one charity is calling for more action from the Welsh Assembly Government. Guest blogger Daniel Hewitt investigated further.
By Daniel Hewitt
A mental health charity in Wales is calling upon the Welsh Assembly Government to invest more into the treatment of depression, or face busier GP’s waiting rooms and greater unemployment.
More than 250,000 people in Wales suffer from some form of depression each year, with one in four in the UK likely to experience some form of mental health problem.
Mind Cymru however says that there is a lack of alternative treatments to address the issue of depression in Wales, which they say forces GP’s to simply prescribe anti-depressants like Prozac, when psychological therapies such as counselling can be equally if not more effective.
They want the next Assembly Government to use savings made from reducing the prescription rates of medication in Wales to be invested in training people to deliver ‘talking treatments’ such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and family therapy, and to reduce waiting times.
In 2005, a study by the Mental Health Foundation conducted in England found that 57% of GP’s believed anti-depressants were over-prescribed, with nearly 80% saying that they given out anti-depressants despite believing an alternative treatment would have been more appropriate.
Mind Cymru say people in Wales suffering from depression and anxiety are experiencing the same problems.
The latest figures show that seven of the top ten areas for the prescription of anti-depressant drugs are in Wales. Areas in the South Wales Valleys including Rhonda Cynon Taf, Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil rank among the highest areas, with Torfaen being the highest with 104 prescriptions per 1000 patients in January 2009.
Rachel Bowen, Policy and Social Inclusion Officer at Mind Cymru, believes that it is in the Assembly Government’s interest to invest more to address these problems now:
“There are many advantages to solving mental health problems through investment in talking treatments. Evidence shows that when depression is treated correctly people are more likely to stay in work.
“Counselling and other forms of treatment such as Cognitive Behavioural therapy allow people suffering from depression to better manage aspects of their personal life that could otherwise force them to leave employment.”
Although anti-depressant drugs can often alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety, they don’t always deal with the underlying problems that can be addressed through therapy.
Ms Bowen however added that in Wales “there is simply not enough resources to train counsellors, and the time taken to see a counsellor or therapist is increasing”.
She said: “Anti-depressants cannot help everybody, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to depression.
“GP’s don’t necessarily want to prescribe anti-depressants as their first course of action, but waiting lists are long for talking treatments, and handing out medication is something that doctors can do to attempt to solve the problem.”
Furthermore, first language Welsh speakers who are able to access some form of therapy are often faced with a language barrier issue, as most if not all forms of psychological therapy are provided in English-only.
Ms Bowen said: “For some people, speaking a language other than English when receiving therapy is not a choice but a necessity. People need access to their first language in order to properly communicate their feelings.”
Mind Cymru want WAG to invest money into training Welsh-speaking counsellors to address this problem, which they say would enable more people “to remain or become economically active, as well as further reducing the number of visits to GPs and prescriptions written.”
Responding to calls from Mind Cymru, a spokesperson for the Welsh Assembly Government said:
“We would support the use of appropriate clinical treatments for individuals based on their preferences combined with professional judgement of their needs. This would range from the use of counselling and ‘talking therapies’ through to prescribed antidepressants and specialist support.
“Welsh Assembly Government funds the free, bilingual mental health helpline and are training more people in mental health first aid so they can help identify and assist people with mental health problems.”