Prevalence and variation in antidepressant prescribing across Northern Ireland: a longitudinal administrative data linkage for targeted support

  • Boduszek, Daniel (CoI)
  • Shevlin, Mark (PI)
  • Murphy, Jamie (CoI)
  • Rosato, Michael (CoI)

Project: Research

Project Details


Anti-depressant prescription rates in the United Kingdom (UK) are among the highest in Western Europe and prescription rates in Northern Ireland (NI) are significantly higher than the rest of the UK. Moreover, while prescription rates are climbing annually, rates of depression are not changing, and evidence suggests that a range of socio-economic and geographical factors may be responsible. Furthermore, the majority of UK GP's often believe that alternative treatments may be more appropriate and that they would prescribe antidepressants less frequently if other options were available. Evidence seems to indicate generally that (a) there are widely different reasons why people receive anti-depressants and why GP's prescribe them, and (b) the relative importance of these reasons may vary geographically (e.g. the likelihood of receiving antidepressants may vary due to the affluence of an area or the number and proximity of available primary care services; and the associated pressures on these services).
A multi-disciplinary team of experienced academic researchers and the award winning NI charity, Aware Defeat Depression (Aware), aim to maximise the use of Census and Enhanced Prescribing Database data in NI to target, tailor and implement support for individuals in receipt of antidepressant prescriptions and to stimulate 'social prescribing' across the region (a mechanism for linking patients with non-medical sources of support within the community).
Specifically the study aims to (i) provide a detailed geographical breakdown of antidepressant prescribing in NI to identify prescription 'hot spots' at a small geographical level, (ii) use linked census data to identify demographic variables (personal, social, and economic factors) that differentiate 'hot spots', (iii) determine if the association between demographic variables and 'hot spots' differs by geographical location, (iv) determine if long-term changes in people's lives (e.g. change in deprivation, family structure, physical health) are associated with antidepressant use and (v) stimulate 'social prescribing' across the region through targeted intervention.
The project will address two main research questions highlighted in the 2015/16 ESRC strategic priority area 'Influencing Behaviour and Informing Intervention'.
On the basis of the proposed analytic strategy the project team aims to develop a nationwide map detailing the socio-economic landscape of antidepressant prescribing in NI. This map will support the non-academic partners (Aware) in their efforts to develop and implement effective and coordinated intervention programs by (i) highlighting prescription hotspots at a small geographical level (ii) generating 'risk' profiles specific to identified hotspots using personal, social and economic data and (iii) identifying 'vulnerability' at a personal, social and economic level through longitudinal change modelling.
The project has the potential to deliver effective and meaningful change. Partnership with Aware will ensure that findings can be acted upon immediately. Aware has been delivering intensive education and training programmes to thousands of adolescents and adults across NI since 1996 and has been awarded the GSK IMPACT Award in 2014. A primary focus of these programmes is to educate individuals about positive strategies that can be used in the recovery from depression. Aware, on the basis of the project findings, will tailor, target and promote 'social prescribing' in those areas and among those individuals in NI that need it most. Social prescribing may include opportunities for arts and creativity, physical activity, learning new skills, volunteering, mutual aid, befriending and self-help, as well as support with, e.g. employment, housing, debt, or parenting problems. Equipped with a detailed geographical map the project team will develop a targeted intervention strategy for delivering focussed, context sensitive social prescribing across NI.
Effective start/end date11/07/1610/01/18


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