How anxiety during lockdown led me to prescription drugs

Young people tell of mental health problems during Covid pandemic restrictions

Anxiety crept up on Oludayo Asuni until she was having a panic attack a day, and texts and calls from friends and family were increasingly going unanswered. As her world began to unravel, she was prescribed antidepressants.

The 23-year-old university student, whose family come from Kent, is among hundreds of thousands of people who started taking medication during the pandemic, or went back on to prescription drugs to tackle re-emerging mental health problems.

Data show that more than 6 million people in England received antidepressants in the three months to September, the highest figure on record.

The number of people referred to talking therapies fell by 250,000 in the six months to August, compared with the same period last year.

Asuni was given the option of online counselling when she first started experiencing problems, but it didn’t help. “What I found hard about lockdown was the confinement,” she said.

Lockdown increased feelings of anxiety she was having about her degree course, and with classes having stopped due to lockdown measures she worried about completing her dissertation. “This is my whole degree,” she thought, “and if I cannot do my work, what will I do?”

Antonia, from London, who did not want to give her surname, said quarantine and isolation also compounded her problems.

“I have always been a fairly anxious person, but I would not say anything outside the norm,” she said, noting that she had just departed a job due to many of the issues raised during the Black Lives Matter protests.

“I found it hard to move on from that, even though I was in a new job. Things that would normally help, such as going to the gym, didn’t because it was closed, and doing things with friends was hard.”

She could no longer get out of bed, lost her appetite and was prescribed antidepressants by her doctor. “I was told I could have counselling in conjunction with it, but I have had counselling in the past and it got to the point where I needed something. I was not feeling OK.”

James Leeland, 29, said he went back on antidepressants for the third time around last May.

He described his depression as being like a bubble forming around him, as he got overwhelming feelings of low self-esteem. “I got in contact with a doctor and I explained how I was feeling,” he said. “I was after a counsellor to discuss it, because this time around there was no trigger but lots of external factors causing extra stress, like the pandemic and I had a newborn child.

“But with things how they are and counselling limited at the moment … after a lot of back and forth with the doctor, that is when I thought ‘I will try tablets’.” Leeland has since come off the drugs and has found talking to his family more helpful.

Christopher Dowrick, a university professor and practising GP in Liverpool, is unsurprised by the rise in antidepressant use, saying that for many people mental health problems have got worse in recent months. He added that there was little alternative for family doctors other than to prescribe medication as most services went online.

“I think GPs were more likely to prescribe medication in cases they would not normally during peak lockdown … As a GP you want to help as much as you can within the limits put around you,” he said.

“I am not ‘anti’ antidepressants, I think they are useful for people with more severe and persistent depression and anxiety … but for most people who have milder symptoms and problems, there are a lot of other ways of helping, whether that is family support or exercise, or psychotherapy.”

• In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email or In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at


Sarah Marsh

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Figures lay bare toll of pandemic on UK children's mental health
Investigation finds rises in school safeguarding reports, eating disorder treatment and sleeping pill prescriptions

Sarah Marsh and Amelia Hill

21, Oct, 2020 @10:02 AM

Article image
Parents struggle to get help for mentally ill children during pandemic
Psychotherapist says accessing NHS is harder and most services offered only online or by phone

Sarah Marsh

21, Oct, 2020 @10:02 AM

Article image
Young people to be prescribed surfing and dancing by NHS to help anxiety
Study to assess if ‘social prescribing’ such as surfing or rollerskating can stop conditions worsening while on waiting lists

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

25, Oct, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
Surge in teenagers self-poisoning renews mental health concerns
Almost two in three poisonings are intentional – up 50% in past 20 years – with young women most affected, data shows

Sarah Johnson

17, May, 2016 @4:26 PM

Article image
More than third of teenage girls in England suffer depression and anxiety
Number of those reporting symptoms increases from 33% to 37% since 2005 but survey also finds teens less prone to risky behaviour or playing truant

Maev Kennedy

22, Aug, 2016 @6:08 PM

Article image
Lockdown having 'pernicious impact' on LGBT community's mental health
UCL and Sussex University study finds younger people confined with bigoted relatives the most depressed

David Batty

05, Aug, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
Online CBT is not a therapy substitute, but a step to help manage anxiety
Emotional disorders in young people are prevalent while NHS services are in crisis. Apps are not the cure but a stopgap ‘Inadequate’ NHS services put under-18s with mental health issues at risk

Nihara Krause

30, Dec, 2018 @5:31 PM

Article image
The lockdown paradox: why some people's anxiety is improving during the crisis | Farrah Jarral
Some of my patients report feeling better during the coronavirus lockdown. Could ‘normal’ life be making them ill?, asks writer and broadcaster Dr Farrah Jarral

Farrah Jarral

29, Apr, 2020 @11:00 AM

Article image
Pupils with some anxiety 'more likely to leave school with a qualification'
Students may be at optimal disposition to succeed in school when they experience moderate levels of stress, study shows

Sally Weale Education correspondent

05, Jul, 2017 @11:01 PM

Article image
Lockdown ending could trigger anxiety for many, say UK charities
Fears raised for people with mental health concerns over return to schools and workplaces

Sasha Mistlin

13, Mar, 2021 @7:00 AM