The number of subsidised prescriptions for anti-depressants has jumped by 25 cent over the last six years in Northland.
A number of reasons could be behind the rise, a Northland expert says, with greater awareness and less stigma attached to depression after All Black great Sir John Kirwan fronted a public campaign outlining his battle with depression.
Figures from Government drug-buying agency Pharmac show 50,000 prescriptions were issued in the Northland District Health Board region last year, up from 40,000 in 2006. As well as depression, anti-depressants are often used to treat anxiety disorders, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress.
Nationally, prescription rates have increased to 1,376,000, 37 per cent up on 2006.
Northland clinical director for primary healthcare Kyle Eggleton said several factors could be linked to the rise, including increased awareness and the reduced stigma: "Is this reflective of what's happening in our society of increasing unemployment, poverty and, all these social determinants of health which cause someone to feel unwell?"
Dr Eggleton said treatment options were available for sufferers, but anti-depressants helped some people who were struggling to function.
"When someone comes in who's feeling low, the GP undertakes an assessment of them. If someone is mildly depressed, an anti-depressant is not your firstline choice," he said. "
But Whangarei mother Deb Williams, who co-founded Community Action on Suicide Prevention, Education and Research (CASPER) after her daughter Cloudy committed suicide, believed increased use of anti-depressants was doing more harm than good.
"The prescribing of anti-depressants doesn't help deal with the causes of the problems that make people depressed or feeling suicidal, they don't help the real condition," Ms Williams said. "What's driving depression and suicides are things like unemployment, poverty, sexual and domestic abuse, poor housing, all things we lead the way at.
"When you take anti-depressants you find you may not sleep then will need sleeping pills, and they will have other side effects that will then need other drugs to treat. They are a mask, just covering over the real problems and issues until something blows."