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Growing concern as more Kiwis taking anti-depressants than ever before

More and more Kiwis are taking pills to manage anxiety and depression, with over one million prescriptions for anti-depressants handed out every year.

Seven Sharp looks at the medication that has some New Zealanders hooked. Source: Seven Sharp

In 2016 around 300,000 New Zealanders received antidepressants, a 65 per cent increase on the previous 10 years.

"More people end up on antidepressants than is necessarily ideal," Dr David Codyre said.

One of those people on anti-depressants is 26-year-old Ardon England.

"I ended up getting quite depressed about a year ago quite severely, not that I actually wanted to admit that that was actually happening but when I did and I felt like everything was kind of falling out around me, I kind of had no choice but to help myself," Mr England said.

"The biggest benefit for me was sleeping really, that's the part that I noticed. Obviously they were doing other things in terms of inside my brain and re-wiring you know and all of that kind of thing, but for me it was definitely being able to get eight hours sleep a night and feel rested meant that I was able to function better as a human being in everyday life."

"Within a few weeks I found myself coming back slowly and I honestly believe that they are good for when you need them."

"For people with very severe, debilitating depression, antidepressants can make the difference between functioning or not and indeed with being alive or not," Dr Codyre said.

Along with the known benefits there is a growing concern with more people are staying on antidepressants for longer.

"How it was meant to work is that people would be on them for six to nine months for a major depressive episode and then they would gradually be tapered off," Associate Professor of Psychology Claire Cartwright said.

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted the research done by Claire Cartwright and her team at Auckland University.

"Half of our large survey had been on antidepressants for three years or more, some people had been on them continually since about 1990," she said.

Experts believe long-term use of anti-depressants is mainly a matter of convenience with stretched and under-funded mental health services meaning it's easier to get a prescription than therapy.

"Access to antidepressants is unlimited whereas access to the alternative treatment options, in particular talking therapies, counselling, is restricted," Dr Codyre said.

The advice for those coming off anti-depressants is to do it slowly.

"People talk about brain zaps - the unpleasant kind of almost electric shock like feeling in their brain, aches and pains, flu like symptoms, and also in some people a real rapid return of anxiety depressed like symptoms," Dr Codyre said.

Mr England came off his antidepressants two months ago.

"For the first two weeks not getting enough stable sleep kind of makes you feel like you're relapsing I suppose and my mood swings, I wasn't as happy and obviously I wasn't functioning properly but I kind of knew in the back of my mind that that's just something I had to go through to get off them," he said.

Exercise - including yoga - is helping him to re-balance.

Where can I get help?

Need to talk? 1737 – Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor

Lifeline – Free call 0800 LIFELINE (543 354), or free text HELP (4357)
Youthline
- 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz

Samaritans – 0800 726 666

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 or free text 4202 or www.depression.org.nz

The Lowdown: A website to help young New Zealanders recognise and understand depression or anxiety. www.thelowdown.co.nz or free text 5626

SPARX.org.nz –  Online e-therapy tool provided by the University of Auckland that helps young people learn skills to deal with feeling down, depressed or stressed

OUTLine NZ – 0800 688 5463 for support related to sexual orientation or gender identity