'I'm not even depressed, but doctors still gave me drugs'
Published 05/04/2013 | 05:00
MY name is Niamh Drohan, and I don't suffer from depression.
But seven GPs were quick to diagnose me with the condition and issue me with seven prescriptions for a variety of different anti-depressant drugs.
I study journalism at the University of Limerick but I headed to Waterford to test family doctors' attitudes to prescribing anti-depressants.
After the seven consultations I attended with GPs, who I have never met or had correspondence with before, I had scripts totalling up to 20 months for these medicines.
I was prescribed Lexapro, Citalopram and Cirpamil – all SSRIs, or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors.
These work to change the balance of the chemical serotonin in the brain, which in turn can boost mood.
But while doctors recommended staying on the drugs for three months, six months, or more, only one told me to return immediately if I felt my mood was deteriorating. All GPs did advise a check-up visit after three to four weeks.
It made me concerned about drugs being offered as a quick-fix solution to a serious problem – while all the GPs suggested counselling, I received no referrals. Anecdotal evidence from friends first made me think that this was an issue worth investigating.
But it was the actual evidence that presented itself to me over the course of the consultations that made me feel this was an issue worth writing about.
Deciding to investigate the process by which doctors prescribe anti-depressant medication wasn't a decision that I took lightly or made hastily.
I'm completely aware that there are a number of people who will take issue with this investigation. "Contrary to doctor/ patient relationships" was a phrase tweeted at me yesterday.
While I understand the concerns, I feel the issues raised subsequent to my investigation are far more worrying and of a far greater cause of concern.
I strongly feel that the only way I could have appropriately and accurately reported on the process by which GPs prescribe anti-depressants was to become a patient myself.
I used the same analogy for each individual appointment and decided I would display symptoms of a mild form of depression.
I wanted to leave it up to the GPs to determine whether I should be prescribed medication.
The fact that GPs seem to be readily prescribing anti-depressants is a cause for concern – as is the lack of information provided in relation to the usage of the drugs.
I'm not in any way a medical expert, but it seems that from the experts I have spoken to there is a definite need to move away from using medication as a long-term treatment for depression.
Another aspect that left me concerned was an apparent lack of access to vital patient information and medical history for medical practices.
I could pass through so many surgeries, picking up prescriptions without anybody so much as batting an eyelid. Just two of the seven practices asked me if I wanted to transfer my medical records and all I had to do was decline the offer.
The ability to obtain vast quantities of prescription medication because of this is something that can clearly be exploited.