A FORMER vicar and Elvis impersonator has told his story of being "hooked" on prescription anti-depressants.

Andy Kelso, aged 71, who is also a former chaplain of the Worcester Warriors, said he hopes that by telling his story, more will be done to raise awareness of the issue.

He spoke as it was revealed that in south Worcestershire, 42,730 people received a prescription for anti-depressants in 2017-18 – 17 per cent of the adult population.

Mr Kelso spent 25 years as a vicar in the county, and it was during his time in Redditch that Mr Kelso had what he describes as a breakdown.

He was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid, irritable bowel syndrome and a hiatus hernia and was put on Citalopram and signed off work for three months.

"It probably should have been longer but I dragged myself back and my doses of Citalopram got bigger in order to survive," he said.

"I struggled on over the years but in 2009 I was forced to take early retirement.

"I wasn't told at the time that people are only supposed to be on Citalopram for a couple of weeks or months – I ended up on it for nearly 15 years."

The worst side effects came in 2019 when Mr Kelso decided to get off the drug, which he says he had become "hooked" on.

He said: "This summer I realised that the Citalopram just weren’t working anymore. I had been on them for 15 years and so I went back to the doctor.

"I was told to come off Citalopram which was no longer recommended and to go on a low dose of Sertraline.

"They made me feel worse so after a few weeks I returned and said I was just going to come off everything."

As a result of trying to come off the drug, Mr Kelso experiences symptoms including electric shock-type feelings in the head, headaches, irritability and mood swings, fatigue and suicidal thoughts.

Mr Kelso, who now lives in Throckmorton, near Pershore, hopes that by sharing his experience, more action will be taken to help people who are addicted to prescription drugs.

He said: "I really hope that other people might wake up to this issue, particularly in the church, because people often put on a front while they suffer.

"One of the hardest things over the years has been the feeling of failing by having to be on Citalopram.

"As a Christian leader I felt I shouldn’t be on these drugs if my faith was strong enough.

"I battled depression for years before going onto Citalopram and in those days very little was understood about it."

As part of his recovery, Mr Kelso became an Elvis impersonator, touring with his show, 'Rev Elvis' - in which he sang some of The King's gospel songs and gave talks about the singer's spiritual life.

One such show took him to the 'Peace Line' between the Catholic and Protestant areas of Belfast.

He performed as Rev Elvis until this year, saying: "It is a rather unusual career move, but I was praying hard for a long time to find some direction in life, and one day, while I was out walking the dog, I felt a really clear instruction saying 'take Elvis into the church'

"I stopped, the dog stopped. I wasn't sure, but after speaking to people they all said if it is from God it will work and if not, it won't."

In addition to his work as Rev Elvis, Mr Kelso was also chaplain to the Worcester Warriors team, a role which involved being a sounding board for players who were struggling and writing a column in the weekly match programmes.

He said: "I really enjoyed the job, and I found that players were more able to open up to me than they were to their colleagues or coaches."