This week an article in the Guardian highlighted the shocking fact that a quarter of all US women are taking anti-depressants or other medications for mental disorders. Unfortunately the picture in Europe is very similar, with the UK and Ireland also dishing out high quantities of anti-depressants, and the rest of Europe following suit.
There are two questions that need to be addressed; whether medication is the best way to deal with mental illness, and why people are feeling increasingly depressed and anxious.
The debate between psychiatry and psychology is an old one; are mental illnesses best treated with medication or with counselling? Obviously each case has to be looked at individually, but in general it does seem that we are moving towards a 'quick-fix' culture of using anti-depressants, when actually the many root causes of depression need to be addressed. These can range from social exclusion, isolation, drug or alcohol use, poverty, grief, physical disease or stress at work. Pharmaceutical companies can make big profits out of anti-depressants, whilst providing counselling and support for somebody going through a difficult phase in their life can be challenging and expensive.
And the problem is getting worse. During these incredibly difficult economic times we have become used to hearing figures being thrown about - GDP falling here, national debt increasing there, interest rates rising everywhere - but much more shocking are the statistics on the human cost of the crisis. In Greece, for example, suicide rates have increased by 40% this year as jobs, wages and pensions are cut. Normal families are finding it difficult to cope under the extreme austerity measures imposed by right wing governments across Europe, and it is no surprise that depression and other mental disorders are on the rise.
This is an issue I'm looking at in the European Parliament and I will be hosting an event in the new year focusing on the effects of the economic crisis on mental health. In the meantime we have to ensure that the economic decisions we make are mindful of the huge implications they can have on people's health and wellbeing.