Concerns over rise in children's use of anti-depressant drugs

New research has shown an alarming rise in the use of anti-depressant drugs among children says the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The new study, published in the European Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, shows that between 2005 and 2012 there was a 54 per cent increase in the number of young people prescribed them in the UK. Anti-depressants are a recognised treatment for managing depression in children but National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) clinical guidelines state they should not be offered initially for symptoms of mild depression.

Chair of the BPS Faculty for Children, Young People and their Families Julia Faulconbridge said:

"We share WHO's concern over the increased use of anti-depressant medication for young people. In cases of mild depression, anti-depressant medication is not recommended by NICE guidelines. In presentations of more serious depression, anti-depressants may be prescribed, alongside talking therapies. In the context of national concerns about mental health service provision for children and young people, our concern is that drugs may be being prescribed without the appropriate social and psychological support.

"Depression for one young person could be maintained by social isolation or bullying and for another young person, their symptoms could be maintained by poor family relationships. Failure to understand the interaction of biological, social and psychological factors is a failure to offer safe, evidence-based care."

WHO is also concerned about the prevalence of off-label prescriptions, where children are given drugs which are not licensed for use by under-18s.

CYPF ReviewMore detailed information on understanding the psychological wellbeing in children and young people can be found in the Child and Family Clinical Psychology Review “ What good looks like in psychological services for children, young people and their families” (free to download from the BPSShop). This contains information on what is needed to provide good quality psychological interventions in schools together with practical examples.