According to new research, GP’s are 46 times more likely to prescribe anti-depressant drugs than safer and medically proven alternatives such as Exercise.
A recent survey conducted on behalf of Nuffield Health, a healthcare charity, found that 1% of people who visited their doctor with low mood or anxiety complaints were told to exercise while 46% were prescribed anti-depressants.
Nuffield Health medical director Dr Davina Deniszcyc has called on all GP’s to become less reliant on anti-depressants to avert what she calls the “ticking mental health time bomb in the UK.”
“The compelling evidence that physical activity can play an important role in both treating and alleviating early symptoms of mental ill health isn’t sufficiently filtering through to front line and primary care services,” she said.
“Nuffield Health is calling for all GPs to treat mental health as they would any other condition that can benefit from treatment with exercise – like chronic heart disease, diabetes and obesity for example.”
The study also revealed increases in early indicators of depression, with 44% of respondents experiencing regular anxiety, a 33% increase since the 2008 recession and low mood also rising from 31% to 39%. Last year, British workers were found to be the “most depressed in Europe” with 26% being diagnosed with the condition while this year a third of unemployed young people were reported to be suffering with depression.
However numerous recent studies have found links between exercise, mental wellbeing and brain function. Researchers at the University of Toronto analysed 26 years’ worth of studies and concluded even low levels of exercise such as gardening or walking for as little as 20 minutes a day were helpful in overcoming depression. 25 of the 30 studies analysed found exercise to have a significant effect on mental wellbeing.
“If you’re not physically active, you should start” says George Mammem, co-author of the study which was published in the American Journal of preventive medicine. “We usually think of exercise in terms of weight and how we look, but it’s also a way to maintain mental health far into the future.”
A separate study published by in the British Medical Journal University researchers from Bristol and Scotland found that moderate to vigorous exercise improved teenagers academic performance. The study which tracked the long term health of 14000 children indicated that the more intensive the exercise taken, the greater the impact on test results.
Other studies have discovered that exercise stimulates the growth of new brain nerves especially the hippocampus, the area of the brain closely linked to learning and memory whilst preserving existing brain cells.
Meanwhile, possible side-effects of Anti-depressant drugs has also caused concern. Last year GP’s were warned to lower the maximum dose of the UK’s most widely prescribed antidepressant, Citalopram, for all patients studies suggested it caused heart problems which could result in sudden death. In 2011 more than 43 million prescriptions for antidepressants were filed and numerous medical professional have called for increased caution in their distribution.
In response to Nuffield Health’s findings Beth Murphy, Head of Information at the mental health charity Mind said prescription drugs were often used because there were long waits for talking therapies.
“Mind has found that people who do regular exercise or take part in ecotherapy activities such as gardening can improve their mental well-being and reduce feelings of depression,” she said.
“We urge health professionals to take alternatives such as exercise seriously and consider a range of treatments that offer more choice for individuals.”