THE number of people treated with antidepressants in Scotland has continued to soar, increasing by almost 5 per cent in the last year.

New prescribing figures show use of the drugs has risen by 28.5 per cent since 2009.

Back then 633,791 people took the tablets. During 2014-15 pharmacists dispensed them to 814,181 patients, up 36,000 in a year.

The latest analysis also shows more than twice as many women are using antidepressants, compared to men, and the peak age for receiving the treatment was 50 to 54.

This widespread antidepressant use can divide opinion, with some clinicians arguing the drugs can be helpful while others are concerned they are given out too easily.

Statisticians also say antidepressants are used to treat a range of conditions include post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

In the past the Scottish Government had a target to halt the rise in the number of people taking antidepressants.

However, there were mixed feelings about the target from the start with psychiatrists arguing that some people with depressive illnesses benefit from the tablets. Use of the drugs still rose and the target was dropped in 2010.

In the wake of the new figures opposition parties called on the SNP Government to invest more in alternative therapies and treatment options.

Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said the increase in antidepressant use was "extremely alarming".

"Years ago the SNP pledged to stop this rise, yet it hasn't even been able to make a dent in it," he said.

"We are now looking at the flabbergasting statistic of more than one in seven people in Scotland being prescribed antidepressants this year.

"There's no doubt these drugs have a place in addressing mental health issues.

"But we urgently have to look at better alternatives than simply parking people on medication in the hope things don't get any worse, with no aspiration for complete recovery."

Jim Hume, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "The fact that we have seen such substantial increases in prescriptions raises real concerns over whether this reflects shortages in other services.

"We need to ensure that doctors across Scotland are able to refer patients to the services that offer them the best chance of recovery. If doctors are prescribing anti-depressants because they feel they have no other option then this is a real problem."

Writing in the British Medical Journal two years ago Glasgow GP Dr Des Spence said antidepressants had been given out too easily for too long.

He argued treating depression like a medical condition distracted attention from what really makes patients unhappy.

He said: "Improving society's wellbeing is not in the gift of medicine nor mere medication, and over-prescribing of antidepressants serves as distraction from a wider debate about why we are so unhappy as a society."

Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Mental Health, said Scottish Government efforts to tackle stigma around mental health problems had led to more people speaking to their GP about issues such as depression.

He continued: "This is reflected in recent statistics which show a 27 per cent increase in the numbers of people starting treatment for psychological therapies in the quarter ending June 2015 - compared to the same period last year."

He admitted more work needed to be done and said mental health services were a priority for the government with an extra £100m being invested.