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Deep depression over Barnsley
June 17, 1999
by Nick Pryer
It is never going to win a beauty contest and its collieries are long gone. Even its soccer team has nothing much to smile about. Barnsley is now officially the most depressed place in the country.
The Yorkshire coal town consumes more tranquillisers than any other community in Britain. The health tables show that the town's doctors prescribe more than twice the national average of benzodiazepine drugs such as Valium and sleeping pills, commonly used to treat acute anxiety and stress. As well as being at the top of the tranquilliser prescription league, Barnsley also suffers a suicide rate nearly 25 per cent higher than the national average.
The statistics immediately raised hackles in the town. Stephen Houghton, leader of Barnsley metropolitan council, said that it was "absolute nonsense" to make sweeping generalisations about the place from health statistics. "Clearly there are members of the population who have medical problems and that goes with being a traditional industrial community," he said. "But to make such statements about life in Barnsley is irresponsible."
However Dr Dorothy Birks, of Barnsley health authority, acknowledged that the town had a problem with prescription tranquillisers. "We know tranquilliser use is very high in our area and we are in the process of carrying out research to find out the reasons why. When the project has been completed, we are planning to work with general practitioners and local substance misuse services to find a solution. We will have to provide support to wean people off these drugs, which can be highly addictive if used over a prolonged period of time."
Dr Birks said researchers were looking at the social problems of the area. "We are undoubtedly a very deprived part of the country," she said. "The average household income is 75 per cent of the European average. When the pits closed, the economic basis for Barnsley disappeared and the community as a whole has had a hard time since."
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