GPs in Scotland prescribed more anti-depressants last year than ever before, despite an SNP manifesto commitment to cut the use of the drugs by 10%.

Charities and opposition politicians have expressed grave concern about the increasing use of tablets.

Billy Watson, chief executive of the charity Scottish Association for Mental Health, said: “We all know these are difficult times and the recession is having a widely reported impact on the mental health of the nation. However, SAMH is concerned that one in 10 of the adult population in Scotland is now taking anti-depressants regularly.

“SAMH believes that the best way to support people with mental health problems is to provide prompt access to a wide range of treatments, including talking therapies and exercise. But unfortunately, people are still being prescribed anti-depressants because other options are not routinely available to GPs.”

Since 1999-00, the quantity of drugs prescribed to treat depression in Scotland has soared from 2.5 million to four million items. Between 2007-08 and last year, there was a 4.7% rise in the volume offered to patients. The Information and Services Division of the NHS, which published the information, estimates that 9.7% of people aged 15 and above take anti-depressants every day.

Labour health spokesman Dr Richard Simpson, a member of the Royal College of Psychiatry, said: “These figures are extremely worrying. The SNP Government promised to stabilise the prescription of anti-depressants but they have failed to do so and numbers continue to rise.

“For all but severely affected patients, the daily use of drugs should be a last resort and we need to make much more use of alternative treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy, which is a form of structured counselling.

“I am also concerned we have fallen behind England, where an additional 3000 therapists have been trained and are now beginning to start work on these badly needed alternatives.”

The figures also showed the number of prescriptions for drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) increased by 6.2% between 2007-08 and 2008-09.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Ross Finnie said: “This large rise is alarming. ADHD has been steadily rising among children in Scotland, but prescribing thousands more drugs is not the way to tackle it.

“We need to look at new ways to treat ADHD without getting children on to strong mood-altering drugs.”

Mr Finnie also raised concern that doctors are increasingly giving patients a drug called memantine to treat Alzheimer’s, when official vetting bodies have discouraged its use.

Shona Robison, Minister for Public Health, emphasised that the prescribing of drugs is a clinical decision taken by doctors in discussion with their patients.

Talking about anti-depressant use, she said: “We should remember many of these medications enable patients who might

otherwise have been disabled by their mental health condition to live a normal life in the community.

“Nevertheless, it is encouraging that the rate of increase in prescribing of anti-depressants nationally has slowed significantly. At the same time, we have been working hard with NHS Boards to improve access to non-drug treatments, such as talking therapies.”