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Stats show increase in mental health drugs prescribed during pandemic

NHS Business Services Authority’s (NHSBSA) latest statistics ‘Medicines used in Mental Health – England Quarterly Summary’ have been released today (10/12/2020), showing that 19.6 million antidepressant drugs were prescribed between July and September 2020.

This was a 2% increase from 19.2 million items (400,000) in the previous quarter, and a 4% increase from 18.9 million items (700,000) when compared with the same quarter last year.

The official annual 2019/20 statistical release was launched in September 2020 and includes the use of these specific medicines by age and gender breakdown with patient counts at a national level. (Data on the number and net ingredient cost of prescription items has been made available before via the English Prescribing Dataset on NHSBSA’s Open Data Portal).

Five main groups of medicines are covered by the publication: Hypnotics and anxiolytics (used to treat insomnia and anxiety); antidepressants; drugs for dementia; drugs used in psychoses and related disorders; and central nervous system (CNS) stimulants and drugs used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The data is based on community prescribing and excludes hospitals and prisons.

Other key findings during this summary period, July – September 2020:

  • Prescribing of drugs for dementia continued to show a downward trend. One million items of drugs for dementia were prescribed between July and September 2020. This was a 5% decrease from same quarter last year, and over a 3% decrease from 1.04 million items in the previous quarter.
  • All of the drug groups in this publication have shown greater levels of variation in monthly prescribing since the introduction of measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic on 23 March 2020.
  • All of the drug groups observed a significant decrease in monthly prescribing between July and August 2020, which has not been typically observed in previous years.

Key findings April to June 2020:

  • The number of prescriptions for medicines used in mental health fluctuated since March 2020, following lockdown restrictions being announced by the UK government on 23 March 2020 in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
  • Four of the five drug groups used in these statistics saw a fall in levels of prescribing in Q1 2020/21 compared to the previous quarter. Drugs used in psychoses and related disorders was the only group to see an increase.

These medicines are classified by their main usage. However, they can sometimes be prescribed for other reasons. For example, some antidepressants can be used to treat people suffering from chronic primary pain. We don’t capture this at NHSBSA during processing, and so can’t determine the reason that a prescription was issued. Due to this, these statistics may not give a fully accurate estimation of the population receiving treatment for a specific mental health condition. Drug therapy is just one way that mental health conditions can be treated. These statistics do not tell us how many patients access other forms of treatment, such as psychological therapy.

To see the statistical reports in full follow the links below:

Latest release - Quarterly (July – September 2020):


Quarterly (April-June 2020):

This is an experimental official statistic. The NHSBSA is a new producer of official statistics.  

NHSBSA applies the UK Statistics Authority’s Code of Practice for Statistics when producing our official statistics. Further information can be found in our compliance statement. The Code of Practice for Statistics sets the standards that producers of official statistics should commit to.

Contact Information

Sahdia Hassen

Senior Media and Campaigns Officer

NHS Business Services Authority

Notes to editors

Images (above and attached) are copyright-free.

References to quarters in these statistics are:

  • Q1 refers to the first quarter (April to June) of the given financial year. For example, Q1 2015/16 refers to the period April 2015 to June 2015.
  • Q2 refers to the second quarter (July to September) of the given financial year. For example, Q2 2015/16 refers to the period July 2015 to September 2015.
  • Q3 refers to the third quarter (October to December) of the given financial year. For example, Q3 2015/16 refers to the period October 2015 to December 2015.
  • Q4 refers to the fourth quarter (January to March) of the given financial year. For example, Q4 2015/16 refers to the period January 2016 to March 2016.

You can go to the annual Medicines Used in Mental Health - England webpage to find the most recent annual summary, background information, and explanatory notes that apply to the statistics presented in this statistical release.