The number of elderly people taking antidepressants has more than doubled in two decades – despite no increase in the numbers with depression.
A major British study also reveals that the majority of over-65s who take the drugs do not have depressive symptoms.
It raises fresh concerns about the rate at which doctors give out potentially addictive prescription pills.
Scientists interviewed two groups of 7,500 over-65s in England and Wales, the first between 1991 and 1993 and the second between 2008 and 2011.
The proportion receiving anti-depressants rose from 4 per cent to almost 11 per cent 20 years later. Despite soaring levels of prescriptions, the prevalence of depression among over 65s only fell from 7.9 per cent to 6.8 per cent.
The number of care home residents taking antidepressants quadrupled over the two decades, from 7 per cent to 29 per cent. Yet the proportion of people in care homes with depression remained one in ten, the University of East Anglia research found.
Experts warned that many patients end up hooked on the pills because they are worried about withdrawal symptoms and their GPs fail to review their medication.
There is growing acceptance that antidepressants are overprescribed. The Daily Mail has been campaigning for greater recognition of the prescription drugs addiction crisis since March 2017.
Professor Tony Arthur, author of today’s study published in the British Journal Of Psychiatry, said that elderly patients must be given more help to get off the drugs.
‘You would hope that with a dramatic increase in the prescription of antidepressants, the rate of people suffering from depression would decrease.
But we found little change,’ he said. ‘This could be due to improved recognition and treatment of depression, overprescribing, or use of antidepressants for other conditions.
We need to be vigilant about the regular review of people taking antidepressants. Patients who have been on antidepressants for a long time should see their GP to discuss de-prescribing.’
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘This increase could indicate a greater awareness and acceptance of mental health conditions, and show more people over 65 are seeking help – which are both encouraging.’