Almost a Quarter of a Million Children Prescribed Antidepressants in 2020

In case there was any doubt about the impact of numerous long-lasting lockdowns on the youngest in society, new NHS figures have revealed that record numbers of antidepressants are being prescribed to children, with 231,791 prescribed to children aged between five and 16 in 2020 alone. Long waiting lists for mental health services, caused in part by lockdowns, have certainly added to the problem. And as we have previously reported, many people who have been able to receive ‘treatment’ over the course of the lockdowns still feel as though they missed out on proper care due to the loss of face-to-face appointments. For some, video calls made matters worse. The Times has the story.

Health service guidance says that they should be offered to under-18s only in cases of moderate or severe depression alongside talking therapies.

Campaigners fear that long waits for specialist mental health services aimed at children and young people are driving higher rates of prescription from GPs, who feel powerless to offer anything else.

Studies suggest that lockdowns and missed schooling, as well as the pressure of social media, may be behind higher rates of mental distress. The number of prescriptions issued to primary school children has increased by 20% in the past five years; those for secondary school pupils rose 23% in the same period. …

Catherine Knibbs, a child psychotherapist and online harm adviser, said that she often saw antidepressants handed out for mild cases of anxiety or depression. “Children’s mental health and wellbeing is complex, however pharmacology ought to be a last rather than first resort as their brains and bodies are still developing and maturing,” she said. …

A recent Unicef survey ranked the U.K. in the bottom third of wealthy nations when it came to assessing the quality of children’s mental health. Its report stated that problems with children’s mental health were only likely to get worse. “The existing children’s mental health crisis will probably intensify,” it stated.

“The experiences of lockdown, bereavement and ongoing strains on family relationships of economic uncertainty can damage many children’s mental wellbeing. Children may feel anxious, insecure and fearful for the future.”

Worth reading in full.

Number of Children Taking Antidepressants Reaches Record High During Lockdown

Earlier this week, it was reported that children as young as five are having panic attacks over meeting their friends following almost 15 months of heavy Government restrictions on socialising. Now, data has shown that the use of antidepressants among British children has reached an all-time high over the past year of repeated lockdowns, with many children having been prescribed drugs because waiting times to see health professionals were too long. The Telegraph has the story.

More than 27,000 children were prescribed antidepressants last year, the figures show, with numbers peaking during the first lockdown, and two-thirds of cases involving girls.

Overall, the figure was 40% higher than five years ago, when 19,739 children were prescribed such drugs.

Experts said growing numbers of children were being medicated because waiting lists for help from psychologists and psychiatrists were too long. 

Earlier this week, the Telegraph revealed waits of up to four years in some parts of the country, amid warnings that 1.5 million children will need mental health treatment as a direct result of the pandemic [that is, lockdowns]. 

Experts said many children were suffering behavioural problems fuelled by lockdowns, social distancing and fear of infection, with many now anxious about everyday social activities…

The investigation by the Pharmaceutical Journal reveals that overall, the number of prescriptions of antidepressants to children rose by 26% between April 2015 and April 2020, from 19,739 to 24,957. The peak month was March 2020, when 27,757 prescriptions were issued – two-thirds of them to girls…

NHS figures show a 28% rise in children being referred to mental health services between April and December 2020, amounting to 80,000 more cases. 

The number in need of urgent or emergency crisis care, including checks to see if children were so unwell they were putting themselves at risk, rose by 18%, compared with 2019…

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says children should only be given antidepressants alongside talking therapies, following assessment by a mental health specialist. 

But earlier this year a survey of 32 mental health trusts with children’s services found that one in three had children waiting at least a year for their first appointment. 

The longest wait, in South London, amounted to 1,497 days – more than four years, with children in South Yorkshire waiting 872 days. 

The average waiting time was 58 days, across the country, the survey by ITV News found in March.

Worth reading in full.