The number of children and adolescents taking medicines to combat depression and anxiety has jumped 12 percent in a 12-month period, an investigation by The Guardian has revealed.
It found that between April/June 2015 and April/June 2016, 166,510 under 18s - including 10,595 aged seven to 12 and 537 aged six or younger - received antidepressant drug prescriptions dispensed by community pharmacists in England.
In some cases antidepressants are prescribed in children for conditions such as chronic pain or managing epileptic fits, but the rise has fuelled concerns that doctors are now overprescribing such medicines because of difficulties in accessing psychotherapy services.
“We are failing to provide a choice of age-appropriate psychological treatments at the point of the need,” Dr Antonis Kousoulis, a clinician and assistant director at the Mental Health Foundation, told the paper.
“GPs overprescribe antidepressants often because of the long waiting lists for specialist services,” he said. “But the evidence that these medicines are effective in children is not as comprehensive as is it for drugs for other conditions.”
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends that antidepressants are only prescribed to teenagers and children with moderate or severe depression when psychotherapy has failed and in tandem with other support services.
“Depression and anxiety can be debilitating, and while there are excellent psychological treatments for children and young people, in some cases it is medically appropriate to offer medication, usually in addition to any psychological therapy they are already having,” The Guardian quotes an NHS England spokesperson as saying.
However, Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrats’ health spokesman, added: “There is no doubt a significant link between the growing use of antidepressants and the immense pressure children’s mental health services are under,” and stressed: “Children’s mental health services are in desperate need of more resources.”