A series of items about antidepressant use on Radio 4s PM programme featuring a collaborative project between the universities of Exeter and Plymouth (funded by Economic and Social Research Council and supported by PenARC), has been shortlisted for an award at the Mind Mental Health awards. Held annually, the awards recognise and celebrate the best possible representations of mental health across TV, radio, print and online media.
Nominated in the radio category, the series, Antidepressant Withdrawal, features the work of the DE-STRESS project. The series came about after an initial report by Sarah Vine generated a huge response from listeners, and explores personal stories of depression, examines the guidelines around prescribing and looks at how mental health is treated in economically deprived areas.
Dr Felicity Thomas, lead investigator on the DE-STRESS project contacted the PM team to tell them about their research into the medicalisation of poverty. BBC reporter Chris Vallance went to Plymouth and Teignmouth to meet her and co-investigator Professor Richard Byng, a practicing GP specialising in mental health, and to visit some of the communities that feature in their research.
The project has spent two and a half years looking at how welfare reforms and austerity have affected mental health in low income communities, generating a report entitled Poverty Pathology and Pills. The report details how the stresses of dealing with life on a low income are too often treated as a medical problem. Dr Thomas said, ‘People are going to their GPs with essentially social and structural issues relating to poverty and they are being prescribed antidepressant treatments as a response.’
She continued, ‘There are so few community resources around these days that there are limited places for people to go. By going to a GP, the very nature of the setting results in the likelihood of the problem being medicalised, and it is often the case that people need a medical reason to keep receiving welfare entitlements.’
The government has said that the treatment of mental health is a key priority in the NHS long term plan and have pledged an extra £2.3bn to increase access to psychological therapies and social prescribing.