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Sales of psychiatric drugs up in 2020

Mental health advocates say lack of access to therapy may have caused the threshold for prescribing antidepressants to be lowered.

Nearly ten percent of Finns take antidepressants each year. Image: Jorge Gonzalez / Yle

According to The Association of Finnish Pharmacies (AFP), sales of psychiatric drugs have increased by approximately nine percent since last year.

Erkki Kostiainen, Communications Director at AFP says the growth of antidepressant sales has been significant.

Total sales of pharmaceuticals are estimated to have grown by about two percent from last year.

Statistics from Kela, the social insurance institution responsible for funding prescribed drugs in Finland, also show psychiatric drugs have been prescribed in increasing amounts this year.

For example, the purchase volumes (meaning a single batch of a medicinal product delivered from a pharmacy) of anti-psychosis drugs between January and November this year have been around eight percent higher than in the same period last year.

Lack of access to therapy may be a factor

The coronavirus pandemic has caused extra stress and anxiety for many, and it has also added to people's mental strain. Those who were already struggling before the pandemic are in the most difficult position.

However, according to Kristian Wahlbeck, a psychiatrist at the MIELI Mental Health Finland, there is no evidence that the pandemic has increased actual mental health disorders.

More than 400,000 people in Finland take antidepressants. The use of antidepressants increased in the early 2000s, when new drugs were approved and got a marketing push. Since then, the situation levelled off until the sales started rising again in 2018.

According to Wahlbeck, medication should not be the primary treatment for anxiety and mild mood disorder symptoms. The first option should be therapy..

He is concerned that without seeing a therapist, people may not be able to unpack the issues and fears they have regarding coronavirus, for example. If counselling has not been available, doctors may have had to resort to prescribing medication even for mild cases of mood disorders.

"The best help is talking therapy, which gives people support and hope," said Wahlbeck. "Counselling and other talking therapies can help people to find solutions and utilise their own resources."

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