Number of under-18s prescribed antidepressants increases by 12 per cent over 14 months

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The number of under-18s in England prescribed antidepressants rose by 12 per cent between April 2015 and June 2016 according to figures given to the Guardian newspaper.

Data released by NHS England under the Freedom of Information Act show that 166,510 under-18s were given anti-depressants over the 14-month period, including 10,595 seven- to 12-year-olds and 537 children aged six or younger.

Mental health campaigners have long expressed concern that medication is increasingly being prescribed for young people because of long waiting times to access talking therapies. They have also criticised the use of medication with primary-age children — especially those under six years of age — given the possible impact on brain development.

Dr Antonis Kousoulis, Assistant Director for Innovation & Development Programmes at the Mental Health Foundation, told the newspaper that the figures show ‘we are failing to provide a choice of age-appropriate psychological treatments at the point of the need’.

He added:

GPs overprescribe antidepressants often because of the long waiting lists for specialist services. But the evidence that these medicines are effective in children is not as comprehensive as is it for drugs for other conditions.

NICE Guidance specifies that medication should only be considered in cases of moderate to severe depression and as part of ‘combined treatments’. Guidance was updated in 2015 to reflect some of the concerns.

 The opening para of the section on ‘How to use antidepressants in children and young people’ states:

Do not offer antidepressant medication to a child or young person with moderate to severe depression except in combination with a concurrent psychological therapy. Specific arrangements must be made for careful monitoring of adverse drug reactions, as well as for reviewing mental state and general progress; for example, weekly contact with the child or young person and their parent(s) or carer(s) for the first four weeks of treatment.

It adds that the precise frequency of antidepressant use will need to be decided on an individual basis, and recorded in the notes. And that:

In the event that psychological therapies are declined, medication may still be given, but as the young person will not be reviewed at psychological therapy sessions, the prescribing doctor should closely monitor the child or young person’s progress on a regular basis and focus particularly on emergent adverse drug reactions.

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