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More antidepressants being prescribed to children in UK

Published on 25/07/18 at 09:54am

Figures have revealed a trend towards an increased number of prescriptions for antidepressants for children in England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, in recent years.

Over the past three years there was a 15% rise in the number of antidepressants prescribed to children in England, a 10% increase in Scotland and a 6% increase in Northern Ireland. Significantly there was a 24% increase in the number of prescriptions given to children aged 12 and under, as the number of antidepressants prescribed to young children rose from 14,500 to nearly 18,000 in just three years. In total, 950,000 antidepressant prescriptions were issued to children under the age of 18 between April 2015 and March 2018.

The rise in the number of prescriptions has been linked to increasingly long waiting times for specialist mental health services. Mental health charity Young minds have noted that waiting times for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS) have increased in recent years.

As expanded upon by Marc Bush, Chief Policy Advisor at Young Minds: “The government recently suggested that the average waiting time for general access to CAHMS is around 12 weeks, which is a long time to be in distress. And that is why front-line professionals are turning to prescription pads, because they're thinking, 'I'm seeing someone in front of me in crisis with a level of distress I don't want to leave them with - how do I offer them some kind of alleviation from that?”  

While NHS guidelines state that antidepressants should only be prescribed to children under close supervision, there have been concerns that strict protocols may not have been followed in some cases. This may be particularly problematic due to the fact that in some cases antidepressants can trigger suicidal thoughts and self-harm in children.

Dr Bernadka Dubicka, who chairs the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, commented on the issue: "Currently only one in four children and young people are treated for their mental health problems. The fact that prescriptions for antidepressants are rising could reflect a slow but steady move towards treating everyone who is unwell. But the importance of giving children access to psychological therapies cannot be overstated. What we don't know from today's data is why these antidepressants are being prescribed, and how. It is vital that they are being used judiciously, monitored carefully, and the risks and benefits of taking them are assessed in each individual case."

Louis Goss

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