The number of children being prescribed antidepressant drugs has shot up 28 per cent in a decade, a study has found.
Experts fear in some cases children are being treated with powerful pills as a ‘first line’ of treatment instead of being given counselling.
The findings also add to fears that children are increasingly suffering from depression and distress, after a report from Childline yesterday revealed that the number of children calling its helpline who were considering suicide has doubled in the past five years.
The study, by Swansea University, looked at 360,000 Welsh children aged six to 18 between 2003 and 2013 and found that prescriptions for antidepressants rose 28 per cent.
Among its ‘concerning’ findings are that doctors are frequently prescribing drugs not authorised by health watchdog NICE to treat young people.
The only drug recommended for children suffering from depression is Prozac, but the figures show the majority of new prescriptions were for citalopram, also known as cipramil, which has been linked to an increase in suicides.
Professor Ann John of Swansea University Medical School told the British Science Festival yesterday that the rise in prescribing could mean society is ‘overmedicalising’ young people.
She said: ‘Ten years ago people didn’t even seek help, but now there is increased awareness and my results show kids and families are seeking help more, and GPs are prescribing more and treating more.
‘People could be getting what they need or it could reflect poor access to therapy. Or it could be an actual increase in depression symptoms. The reality is we don’t know what the answer is.’
Professor John said she was concerned that citalopram was being given ‘as the first line of defence’ to 40 per cent of children suspected of suffering depression.
Dr Michael Bloomfield, clinical lecturer in psychiatry at University College London, said: ‘Children suffering mental distress deserve rapid access to psychiatric care, which includes psychological support alongside careful treatment with medicines where appropriate. In the UK, this can be difficult to access.’
Nick Harrop, campaigns manager at mental health charity YoungMinds, said: ‘Antidepressants can have a place in treating some mental health conditions among young people, but they should never be the only course of action.’
A rise in teenage obesity rates may be down to a sharp drop in the calories they burn during puberty, British scientists claim.
Researchers from the University of Exeter discovered that 15-year-olds use 25 per cent fewer calories when at rest than ten-year-olds. They suspect that humans evolved to store calories when they enter their teens in preparation for a growth spurt. But in modern adolescents – who eat far more than they need and do not do enough exercise – this turns into fat.