A study into the mental health impact of Brexit has found that the number of antidepressants prescribed in England rose after the UK chose to leave the European Union in 2016. Researchers are advising that more mental health services should be made available as they believe that uncertainty over the future of the country may have caused of the rise.
The study, by King’s College London and Harvard University, examined monthly prescribing data for every month of July from 2011 to 2016 across all 326 voting areas in England. Comparing antidepressant prescriptions with drugs that treat physical conditions (that are unlikely to be influenced by uncertainty or depression), such as gout, iron deficiency and thyroid problems, they found that where prescriptions for those conditions fell, antidepressant prescriptions rose.
While the rise was at a slower rate than previous years, it was still 13.4% faster than the other drugs monitored. ‘This study adds to previous studies that show that events at the national level can have an effect on people's mental health or mood,’ said Sotiris Vandoros, senior lecturer in health economics at King's Business School and lead author on the study.
And while Vandoros states that the trends can’t prove causation, nor an overall rise in depression for the entire country, he says it does show that ‘people who were negatively affected by the referendum and might have started feeling worse’ ended up driving the increase in antidepressants.
Speculating about the fear that the referendum result created in terms of job opportunities, companies relocating, whether EU nationals could stay in the UK and general economic uncertainty, Vandoros is believes all of this uncertainty could be the reason behind the increase.
‘Uncertainty is going to cause people stress and anxiety and worry, and some people might end up feeling more depressed due to this,’ he added, explaining the decrease in drugs for physical conditions could also be explained by the distraction that Brexit provided, in turn having less time to fill their prescriptions. However, under this scenario it would also make sense that antidepressant prescriptions should have fallen too.
Since they didn’t, authors of the study are advising that mental health services increase during times such as this, where nobody – not even the Prime Minister, it seems – knows what the future holds for the UK.
Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, authors suggested that ‘a possible policy implication is that programmes for the promotion of mental health may need to be intensified during periods of uncertainty’.
At a time when we're not even sure if our Prime Minister will still be our Prime Minister by Christmas, uncertainty in the UK continues to grow, the least the government can do is increase funding and promotion for mental health services. You got us into this mess, we shouldn't be made to suffer internal misery for it while you sort it out.