It's time to address issue of depression
The latest figures on treating depression in Northern Ireland are truly disturbing. In the last five years the cost has risen to £70m.
This is almost as much as the total spent on anti-depressants in England.
In the last year alone, some £13.59m was spent here on anti-depressants, which is £7 per capita in Northern Ireland compared to £4 per person in England.
Equally shocking is the revelation that almost 300,000 people were prescribed anti-depressants in Northern Ireland last year, including more than 500 children under the age of 16.
Sadly, the number of young people on anti-depressants has increased each year since 2012.
To add to the grim picture, it emerges that the total number of people of all ages on this medication has risen by almost 10% in two years.
The reasons for this literally depressing picture are obviously complex, and numerous medical factors are involved.
However, people are entitled to ask if there is something about living in Northern Ireland which makes these figures worse than elsewhere?
No doubt the Troubles continue to cast a deep shadow. They may have ceased, despite continuing dangers from paramilitaries, but it is clear that the effects of the past still disturb many people, and not only the victims of violence and their families.
There is also the added factor of difficulties in finding and holding down the right job, especially in an era when the traditional industries have been wound down, and new opportunities require, in many cases, high levels of education.
There is also the problem of under-achievement among many working-class people, and the fear that nothing will, or can, change.
Apart from the huge financial and medical cost of trying to grapple with depression, there is the mental cost to those affected, and also to their families who care for them.
The high suicide rate also underlines the degree of the problem, and the answer cannot lie alone with finding the right medication.
Much more needs to be done to try to find out the underlying causes of such widespread depression, and how the situation can be improved.
There is no easy solution, but the latest figures underline the need for a greater public awareness of the situation, and of the need for better help for those who are caught in the grip of depression.