Depression on the rise in Nelson
The number of people taking antidepressant medication in Nelson and Marlborough has grown more than anywhere else in the country.
Data released by government pharmaceutical purchaser Pharmac shows regionally 16,400 patients were prescribed antidepressants last year, compared with 12,800 in 2008.
The 28.1 per cent rise is the highest increase in New Zealand, followed by Waikato on 27.9 per cent, and Counties Manakau on 27.5 per cent.
Nationally, patient numbers went up 22.9 per cent over the five-year period.
Nelson Marlborough District Health Board consultant psychiatrist Brenda Brand, who is based at Wairau Hospital, said she was not surprised more people in Marlborough and Nelson were taking antidepressants.
Mental health awareness campaigns coupled with early GP detection had contributed to the increase, Dr Brand said.
Historically, depression was under-diagnosed and people did not always seek treatment.
"People are more aware of the symptoms and have the ability to be more assertive in finding help. GPs are recognising signs of depression earlier on," she said.
"There has been a recession and a major natural disaster not far away in Christchurch which have contributed to an increase in the use of antidepressants."
Antidepressants were not effective in mild cases of depression and were used only in moderate to severe cases, Dr Brand said.
Medical presentations of depression were being seen in equal numbers in men and women, but breaking down mental health barriers remained an issue.
"There is still a stigma attached to mental health. People coming to use our service feel embarrassed, they won't park nearby," she said.
Nelson GP spokesman Graham Loveridge agreed that the rise in antidepressant prescriptions was likely to be connected with the Christchurch earthquakes, saying there had been an influx of people moving to Nelson and Marlborough to escape damaged quake-damaged areas.
"Many of those people came with very sad stories and some pretty stressful times."
He said the earthquake that hit Seddon in July last year was likely to increase the number of stressed people in the area as well, citing economic worries, high house prices and uncertainty around jobs as more environmental stress factors.
Dr Loveridge said greater community awareness of the symptoms of depression was a positive factor as people knew they did not have to suffer, but said GPs had to be careful not to "medicalise" negative feelings that were a normal part of life by over-prescribing antidepressants.
"We don't want to turn what is a normal human emotion into a medical condition."
Dr Loveridge said not all of those who were prescribed antidepressants last year would be on the drugs long-term.
Some would be given only a short course and others would stop taking them after deciding they were not responding favourably.