03/06/2015 06:07 BST | Updated 31/05/2016 06:59 BST

London's Hurting: Depression in the Capital


Londoners are depressed. 12% of men and as many as 20% of women living in London had symptoms of depression or anxiety in a survey carried out by the National Centre for Social Research and the University of Leicester.

We know that women, poorer people, the chronically ill and the unemployed are more likely to become depressed. Social deprivation is associated with depression, which is to be expected, but interestingly those in the highest income bracket are more prone to depression and anxiety than people directly below them and not quite so well-off. So the extremes in income are more vulnerable to depression, and extremes is something London does very well.

London always tends to occupy a category of its own in every national statistic. There are large income disparities in the capital, with pockets of shocking deprivation next to amazingly wealthy areas. The confines of the M25 also contain a dense concentration of talent, harvested from elsewhere in the country and from abroad. All these clever people clustered together inevitably generate high levels of pressure and competition, a common source of psychological distress.

The result of all this is that some Londoners are depressed because they are poor and disadvantaged, while some other Londoners are depressed because of the pressure they have to endure in their well remunerated but very competitive and stressful jobs. Others are simply sad and lonely, lost in the fragmented and unconnected social tissue of the inner city.

Curiously, depressed Londoners seem to be less keen on antidepressants than sufferers in other parts of Britain.The Health and Social Care Information Centre reported in 2013 that the capital had the lowest rates of antidepressant prescription in the country. The twenty boroughs with fewest prescriptions per population were all in London. The same survey showed that nearly every depressed person in Blackpool, but less than one in four depressed people in Chelsea does, takes an antidepressant.

The fact is that antidepressants are, in any case, not awfully effective. Research has shown that two-thirds of those who are started on an antidepressant medication by their GPs will remain depressed to a significant extent, despite the pills. And their side-effects, such as weight gain or a reduced libido, lower their appeal significantly.

For those who don't like the idea of taking pills, there are new treatments, such as rTMS (repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation), which is very effective and easily tolerated. It uses magnetic energy to stimulate the brain, while one is fully awake and relaxed, sitting on a comfortable chair. rTMS is already very well established in America and it has now become available in Europe. London is one of the main research centres in this field, this side of the Atlantic.

With the help of this new technology, treating depression without pills is very effective, even when all other treatments have failed before, and it offers hope to those who had assumed they would have to carry on living with their symptoms for the rest of their lives.

London may be a lonely and stressful place for many, but new developments in medical technology offer hope to its depressed inhabitants.