Number of antidepressants given to children soars by 22% as expert warns they should be prescribed ‘as a last resort’
The number of antidepressants prescribed to children has soared to a rate equivalent to 600 pill packets a day.
NHS figures show prescriptions for the drugs given to children aged five to 16 have risen by 22 per cent in five years.
There were a record 231,791 last year compared with 189,457 in 2016.
The pills can help young people but experts have warned they are often used as an alternative to talking therapies amid a shortage of psychologists.
Not all the prescriptions will be for psychological issues as the medication can also be given for conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and headaches.
NHS figures show prescriptions for antidepressants given to children aged five to 16 have risen by 22 per cent in five years
Child psychotherapist Catherine Knibbs said: ‘Antidepressants are becoming more commonplace in child clients.
‘Often these are handed out for mild pathological versions of anxiety or depression.’
She said children faced family issues, school worries and pressures over body image and gender identity, some of which could be fuelled by time spent online.
She added they should be offered pills ‘as a last rather than first resort’.
Tom Madders, of mental health charity YoungMinds, said the pandemic has left many young people facing ‘isolation, loneliness and worries about the future’.
He said: ‘The reasons why a young person might struggle with their mental health are often complex but we know that traumatic experiences at a young age – like bereavement, bullying, abuse or facing discrimination – can have a huge impact on mental health.
‘School pressure, concerns about how you look and difficult relationships with family or friends can also have a significant effect.
Not all the prescriptions will be for psychological issues as the medication can also be given for conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and headaches
‘The pandemic has exacerbated these pressures, with many young people experiencing isolation, loneliness and worries about the future.
‘While antidepressants can play a role in supporting some young people’s mental health, it’s crucial that they are never seen as a substitute for fast access to talking therapies, especially for younger children.’
The mental health charity is calling for extra investment in specialist mental health services, and early support for young people, so that they have somewhere to turn when problems first emerge.
Chris Martin, chief executive of The Mix, a charity for under 25s, said: ‘The increase of young people being prescribed antidepressants is consistent with the trends we have seen at The Mix.
‘Anxiety, low mood or depression are among the leading reasons young people contact our helpline.
‘The causes of this are complex but we know that unhealthy social media use can contribute to poor mental health, especially when combined with peer pressures and the isolating effect of the pandemic.
‘We must empower young people to have a more balanced approach to social media – this means spending time away from screens, focusing on positive content and seeking support early when they need it.’