THE Scottish Conservatives have hit out at the SNP after the number of anti-depressants prescribed across Scotland jumped.

New figures show that the number of items dispensed broke the six-million mark last year for the first time, costing more than £44 million.

It is, the party say, the equivalent of doctors giving out 16,750 pills every day across the country.

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Tory MP Miles Briggs said the SNP had promised to “cut the annual increase in anti-depressant prescribing to zero by 2009-10 and by 10 per cent in the following years” in their 2007 manifesto.

“There will always be a place for medication such as this to treat depression,” Briggs said. “But we’re seeing increasing numbers of people put on these pills, and many are concerned there isn’t a proper strategy for getting them off the medication again.

“I know the Scottish Government is serious about mental illness, and rightly so.

“But there has to be an explanation for why, in 2007, it said the rate of antidepressant prescriptions was going to decrease, yet precisely the opposite has happened.

“We need a very determined effort not only to ensure people suffering from depression have a range of options, but that there is a very real plan in place to help them recover.

“I am particularly concerned about the prescribing of antidepressants to young people.

“The Scottish Government’s new mental-health strategy must address the increasing prescribing of antidepressants with the need for a new focus on the provision of social prescribing with antidepressant medication as a last resort.”

The figures from ISD Scotland show that in 2015/16, 6,115,737 items were prescribed costing £44.08m, compared 5,798,581 items in 2014/15, costing £40.39m.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said they would publish their mental-health strategy imminently. “Mental Health is an absolute priority for this government, demonstrated by the fact that we have committed an additional £150m to improve mental health services over five years,” she said. “Scotland was also the first country in the UK to have a dedicated minister for mental health.

“We have seen an increase in demand for mental-health services through better identification of those requiring treatment, better diagnosis and more people being prepared to come forward. In addition, waiting times have decreased significantly despite a rise in the number of people seeking help. Reducing stigma is one of the reasons for more people coming forward for diagnosis.

“Our forthcoming Mental Health Strategy will set out our 10-year vision for transforming mental health in Scotland. Treating people once they are ill is only one part of the solution. We know that prevention and early intervention make a big difference to the risk of developing mental health problems – especially for children and young people.”

In October last year, figures revealed that one in seven Scots were taking antidepressants. GPs have complained that they do not have the right amount of time to properly spend with patients who present with signs of depression.

At the time, Dr Miles Mack, the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (Scotland), told The National: “It is simply not viable to offer someone adequate support within 10 minutes when they present to their GP with mental distress.”

He added: “We recognise, of course, that in the context of today’s shortage of GPs and wider NHS pressures, longer consultation times and parity of services will not appear overnight but we should commit to them and be working towards them now. Until then, we must use whatever tools are available to us to aid our patients and antidepressants are one such tool. It is to be hoped that other supporting initiatives, such as those around social prescribing, will be bolstered meanwhile.”