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UK government declares 'end to Prozac nation'

Published on 12/05/06 at 05:28pm

People suffering from depression in the UK have been promised easier access to counselling and 'talking therapies' by the government, which says it wants to see the end to the 'Prozac nation'.

Campaigners in depression have long called for easier access to therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for people with mild to moderate depression, but demand has continued to far exceed NHS capacity to provide the services.

The government has conceded coverage across the country has been patchy, but says it is now responding to demand from patients who prefer talking therapies to medication.

Eli Lilly's Prozac (fluoxetine) revolutionised treatment of depression when it was launched in the 1990s, and was followed by a number of other drugs in the SSRI class.

The drugs are acknowledged as being safer and more effective than older treatments, but concerns about over-prescribing and safety concerns related to patients coming off the drugs have undermined confidence in them in recent years.

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt announced a new programme to the National Mental Health Partnership Conference, which will begin with two demonstration sites in Doncaster and Newham east London, and will be linked to a regional network of local improvement programmes.

The two demonstration sites will bring together key programmes in the NHS, voluntary sector and local employers to test various models that can be used in the rest of the country.

"Millions of people suffer from mild to moderate mental health problems, and treating them takes up about a third of GPs' time. Too many people are prescribed medication as a quick fix solution, but talking therapies work equally well and patients prefer to receive them," said Patricia Hewitt.

"We know that people in work have better health than those out of work and the Choosing Health White Paper made clear that work matters - it can improve your mental and physical health, reduce health inequalities and improve life chances for people and their families.

"I hope that these pilot sites will provide real, tangible evidence of the effectiveness of investing in talking therapies. They will help break the cycle of deprivation, where poor health leads to unemployment and wasted lives as people fail to reach their full potential."

Cliff Prior, chief executive of mental health charity Rethink said: "This could be the beginning of a dramatic advance in mental health. We know from our members that there is a huge demand for talking therapies. We also know that there is already a strong evidence base to support these types of interventions. We hope that the pilot sites will report quickly and positively so that this initiative can become a full national programme available to everyone who needs it."

Other patient groups working in the area, including MIND and the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health have welcomed the move.

"People with depression and anxiety have for too long been offered little more than medication," said Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health chief executive Angela Greatley.

"For a significant minority, this is not enough to help them to recover. As a result, many lose their jobs, drop out of education or see their relationships break down.  Waiting times for psychological therapies are long, despite the mass of evidence about their benefits for many people," she added.  

She concluded that the new initiative should be the beginning of a new approach bringing faster access to treatment and practical support, with real choices and care close to home.


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