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Antidepressant prescription increase after EU referendum result

The number of antidepressant dosages prescribed in England increased in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum result being announced, according to research from King’s Business School. The researchers suggest that while results should be treated with caution and are open to interpretation, the relative rise may be linked to the increased levels of uncertainly caused by the result in June 2016.  

During the referendum campaign, emphasis was placed on the effect that leaving the EU would have on the British economy and society. The impact on healthcare, free trade, immigration and EU laws appeared to be uncertain and there were concerns voiced about higher inflation, job cuts and even a recession. 

Previous research has shown that several elements of mental health appear to worsen during economic recessions or times of uncertainty. But what impact did the sudden threat of economic uncertainty have in the summer of 2016? 

By looking at GP prescriptions from across all 326 voting areas in England, Dr Sotiris Vandoros and Mauricio Avendano from King’s College London, together with Ichiro Kawachi from Harvard University found that, when calculated by daily dosage, there was a relative increase in antidepressant prescriptions in the month following the EU referendum result compared to other prescription drugs, such as those for iron deficiency and inflammatory arthritis.

They found this increase to be the case irrespective of whether the majority of the local area voted to leave or remain in the UK. 

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The authors suggest that the relative increase in antidepressants might indicate increased psychological distress in individuals due to uncertainty. They caution, however, that more work needs to be done in order to show whether there is a causal link between the two.

Dr Sotiris Vandoros says, ‘Most discussion surrounding Brexit focusses on political and economic issues but there has been limited discussion about the impact on individual health and wellbeing. 

‘Our results contribute to addressing this gap but they don’t capture the effect of the referendum on mental health, mood or happiness of those who were not prescribed antidepressants. More work now needs to be done to study this further and gain a full picture of the effect of the referendum result had on the wider population.’

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