An analysis of antidepressant prescribing trends in England 2015-2019

Hasnain Mussadiq Lalji, Anita McGrogan, Sarah Bailey

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Background: Growing concerns about the impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) will likely lead to increased mental health diagnoses and treatment. To provide a pre-COVID-19 baseline, we have examined antidepressant prescribing trends for 5 years preceding COVID-19.
Methods: A retrospective analysis of anonymised data on medicines prescribed by GPs in England from the Open-Prescribing Database (January 2015 to December 2019) identified the 10 most prescribed antidepressant and, for comparison, cardiovascular medicines.
Results: Prescription items for the 10 most prescribed antidepressants rose 25% from 58 million (2015) to 72 million (2019). Citalopram was the most prescribed antidepressant; prescriptions for sertraline rose fastest at 2 million items year on year. Over the same period, costs for antidepressant prescribing fell 27.8%. Across all Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England, antidepressant prescribing levels, adjusted for population were positively correlated with the index of multiple deprivation (IMD) score. In comparison, prescribing for the top 10 most prescribed cardiovascular medicines increased by 2.75% from 207 million (2015) to 213 million (2019) items.
Limitations: Anonymised data in the Open-Prescribing Database means no patient diagnoses or treatment plans are linked to this data.
Conclusion: Antidepressant prescribing, particularly sertraline, is increasing. Prescribing is higher in more deprived regions, but costs are falling to <2% of all items prescribed. Absolute numbers of prescriptions for cardiovascular medicines are higher, likely reflecting the greater prevalence of cardiovascular disease, and are rising more slowly. This study will enable future work to look at the impact of COVID-19 on prescribing for mental health.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100205
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders Reports
Early online date4 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2021


  • Antidepressant
  • Depression
  • Mental health


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