Status:
Preprint
Posted:

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Antidepressant Prescribing with a focus on people with learning disability and autism

COVID-19 lockdowns led to increased reports of depressive symptoms in the general population and impacted the health and social care services of people with learning disability and autism. We explored whether the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on antidepressant prescribing trends within these and the general population.

Paper information

Citation
Cunningham C, Macdonald O, Schaffer AL, et al. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Antidepressant Prescribing with a focus on people with learning disability and autism: An interrupted time-series analysis in England using OpenSAFELY-TPP. medRxiv 2024.05.08.24306990; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2024.05.08.24306990
Categories

Background

COVID-19 lockdowns led to increased reports of depressive symptoms in the general population and impacted the health and social care services of people with learning disability and autism. We explored whether the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on antidepressant prescribing trends within these and the general population.

Methods

With the approval of NHS England, we used >24 million patients’ primary care data from the OpenSAFELY-TPP platform. We identified patients with learning disability or autism and used an interrupted time series analysis to quantify trends in those prescribed and newly prescribed an antidepressant across key demographic and clinical subgroups, comparing pre-COVID-19 (January 2018-February 2020), COVID-19 lockdown (March 2020-February 2021) and the recovery period (March 2021-December 2022).

Results

Prior to COVID-19 lockdown, antidepressant prescribing was increasing at 0.3% (95% CI 0.2% to 0.3%) patients per month, in the general population and in those with learning disability, and 0.3% (95% CI 0.2% to 0.4%) in those with autism. We did not find evidence that the pandemic was associated with a change in trend of antidepressant prescribing in the general population (RR 1.00 (95% CI 0.97 to 1.02)), in those with autism (RR 0.99 (95% CI 0.97 to 1.01)), or in those with learning disability (RR 0.98 (95% CI 0.96 to 1.00)).

New prescribing post lockdown was 13% and 12% below expected if COVID-19 had not happened in both the general population and those with autism (RR 0.87 (95% CI 0.83 to 0.93), RR 0.88 (95% CI 0.83 to 0.92))), but not learning disability (RR 0.96 (95% CI 0.87 to 1.05)).

Conclusions and Implications

Pre-COVID-19, antidepressant prescribing was increasing at 0.3% per month. While we did not see an impact of COVID-19 on overall prescribing in the general population, prescriptions to those aged 0-19, 20-29, and new prescriptions were lower than pre-COVID-19 trends would have predicted, but tricyclics and new prescriptions in care homes were higher than expected.