The number of people suffering from depression in England has surged by nearly half a million in just three years, according to a new report by data analysts SSentif Intelligence.

Looking at data from the NHS Quality Outcomes Framework, the group found that the number of registered patients with depression jumped by 11.5% during 2008-2011, with some primary care trusts (PCTs) describing hikes of more than 40% in people seeking help for the condition.

Consequently, the number of prescriptions for antidepressant drugs has also grown - by about a fifth - over the same timeframe.

On a regional level, South West Essex PCT showed the highest leap in depression prevalence with a 52.5% rise, while Yorkshire & The Humber came top of the county league with a 19.3% rise. 

Elsewhere, the data also showed a 7.8% increase in cases of dementia in England, although the rise was much larger in some areas, such as in the West Midlands, which saw an increase of 17.7%.

At the local level, North East Lincolnshire PCT reported that the number of patients suffering from dementia jumped by more than a third in the three-year period.

"PCT spending on mental health has increased by 10% in the last three years, but the prevalence of mental illness has increased by 14%," said Judy Aldred, SSentif's managing director, commenting on the results.

Bleak picture?

And, painting an even bleaker picture, she claimed that "the real numbers are likely to be much higher as many people do not seek GP support for their conditions."

Commenting on the findings, Emer O'Neill, chief executive of Depression Alliance, told PharmaTimes UK News that the increase is down to a number of different factors.

"The level of self awareness has meant more people are going to their GP for help, while GPs are getting better at diagnosing more quickly".

The economic recession has had an impact with so many people at risk of losing their job, she said, and also warned that even though the numbers are rising, "they still do not nearly representing the high numbers of people living with depression in the UK".