In the past six years the number of New Zealanders taking antidepressants has doubled, and a psychiatry professor says the drugs are being over-prescribed.

The Government's drug-buying agency, Pharmac, released figures which showed one in 10 New Zealanders were now prescribed antidepressants.

Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Waikato Clinical School, David Menkes, told Radio New Zealand today that GPs were prescribing drugs in mild depression cases when other treatments, like cognitive behaviour therapy, were more appropriate.

"... with such a common disorder the GPs are shouldering the bulk of that burden ... and generally I think they do it very well.


"On the other hand there are good studies now that indicate that a more appropriate treatment for many sufferers of mild depression might be watchful waiting, or alternatively psycho-social intervention, like cognitive behavioural therapy."

He said cognitive behavioural therapy was the "gold standard" of care, and social workers were now being trained up on the therapy.

"It's a question of ready access and training. I think the New Zealand health system is moving in that direction but it takes time and it is often resource intensive."

It was possible to administer some treatments, notably cognitive behavioural therapy, by computer which seemed to be effective, Dr Menkes said.

GP Council chair Dr Kate Baddock said studies showed the best treatment for mild to moderate depression was a combination of medication and cognitive behaviour therapy.

Sir John Kirwan, a mental health advocate, said he thought the increase in the number of New Zealanders taking antidepressants was due to a greater social acceptance of depression.

"You go to the doctor, you get a pill for pneumonia; once antibiotics run [their] course and you're well you go off them. Depression is no different to any other illness."