News ID: 168410
Published: 0255 GMT September 09, 2016

Anti-depressants given to children soar by 30%

Anti-depressants given to children soar by 30%

There has been a massive increase in prescribing of anti-depressants to children over the last decade – but more than 40 percent are drugs that have been shown not to work and which can have toxic side-effects, according to new research.

According to the Independent, a study of almost 360,000 patients aged six to 18 in Wales found there had been a 28-percent rise in anti-depressants given out by GPs, raising fears of the medicalization of unhappiness and the ordinary emotional turmoil experienced by teenagers.

However, the researchers said it could also be because children were now getting the help they needed due to a fall in the stigma attached to mental health problems.

Curiously while the number of prescriptions per child, per year went up, the number of diagnoses of depression fell, which the academics suggested was a sign that doctors were trying to avoid labeling young people as mentally ill.

Girls were three times more likely than boys to be given anti-depressants and children from the most deprived areas were twice as likely as those in the least deprived to be given anti-depressants.

The increase in prescribing was most pronounced among older teenagers with the level remaining fairly stable among six to 10-year-olds.

Dr. Ann John, who led the research, said: “The main issue is whether they being prescribed with enough cause.

“The rise in prescribing may reflect a genuine increase in depression and its symptoms, or increased awareness and better treatment by GPs, or poor access to psychological therapies and specialist care, or even increased help-seeking.”

She added: “There’s lots of debate about ‘are we medicalizing unhappiness?’. Some of these feelings are part of the normal human experience … things that are just part of growing up.”

More research was needed to find out the reasons behind the increase, said John, an associate professor at Swansea University Medical School.

One problem thrown up by the research was that doctors were still giving the drug citalopram to treat depression in young people, despite official guidance not to do this. “Citalopram has a known toxicity in overdose and there were warnings given about it in 2011,” she said.

“About a third of the prescribing was given to 18-year-olds, all the rest was given to kids ... outside the prescribing guidance.”

She said recent research had showed fluoxetine, sold under the trade name Prozac, was the only drug that had been shown to work with minimal side effects in children. Citalopram should only be given to children, she said, if cognitive behavioral therapy and fluoxetine was not effective, and the patient should be closely monitored.

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