11 Oct 2012

More funding needed for counselling, says GP Council

6:32 am on 11 October 2012

The General Practitioner Council says the growing use of antidepressants is partly a result of lack of funding for counselling.

The Government's drug-buying agency, Pharmac, says the number of people using the antidepressants has almost doubled in the last six years, with one in 10 now being prescribed the medication.

GP Council chair Dr Kate Baddock says studies show the best treatment for mild to moderate depression is a combination of medication and cognitive behaviour therapy.

She says SSRI antidepressants do help, but don't give patients the strategies that therapy does to deal with future episodes.

Dr Baddock says the problem is that people tend to relapse if underlying stress factors are not dealt with through skilled counselling.

Professor of psychiatry Dr David Menkes says the drugs are being over-prescribed.

He says GPs are prescribing drugs in cases where other treatments, like cognitive behaviour therapy, are more appropriate.

"GPs are generally pretty stretched, they've got a lot of patients to see and not very much time.

"Writing a prescription is often a lot easier and quicker than taking a detailed history and maybe accessing another individual who could conduct one of these psycho-social interventions."

Dr Baddock says there is little community funding for therapy, and most patients cannot afford it, so antidepressant drugs are often the only option for patients with limited incomes.