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Mental health: This is why cognitive behavioural therapy is being recommended instead of medication

0 2 years ago

As daily commutes turned into shuffles between the bedroom and the kitchen for some and job uncertainty caused stress and anxiety for others, the pandemic pushed mental health into the spotlight, with data from the US and the UK showing a rise in cases of depression.

With more people suffering, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) updated its guidelines on how to treat and manage depression for the first time in 12 years. The new guide puts a focus on patient choice, and advises treating those with “less severe depression” with therapy, exercise, mindfulness or meditation before antidepressants. It also advocated the use of cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT.

Around 17% of UK adults experienced some form of depression this summer, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), up from 10% pre-pandemic, with young people and women more likely to be affected.

Cognitive behavioural therapy best for mild depression

The use of drugs as a treatment has increased, with 23% more patients in England receiving an antidepressant item in the third quarter of 2020-2021 compared with the same quarter in 2015-2016, according to NHS data. The picture is similar in the US, with a sustained increase in the use of antidepressant medication prescriptions, according to the 2020 Drug Trend Report.

“Do not use antidepressants routinely to treat persistent subthreshold depressive symptoms or mild depression,” the NICE guidelines say. “The risk-benefit ratio is poor.”

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – both within a group or as an individual – are listed among the top treatment options for less severe depression in the NICE guidelines. This form of therapy focuses on how thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, feelings and behaviour interact, and teaches coping skills to deal with things differently, the guidelines say.

“Unlike some other talking treatments, CBT deals with your current problems, rather than focusing on issues from your past,” the NHS says. “It looks for practical ways to improve your state of mind on a daily basis.”


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