Number of youngsters on antidepressants doubles

The number of under-21s taking anti-depressants is on the increase. Picture: Getty
The number of under-21s taking anti-depressants is on the increase. Picture: Getty
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Soaring numbers of Lothian young people are taking antidepressants amid warnings of an “epidemic” in youth mental health problems.

More than 4000 children and teenagers were prescribed the pills last year, a figure that has almost doubled since 2009, according to statistics revealed in Holyrood.

Last year, 185 children under 14 were given antidepressants compared to just 86 in 2009.

The spike prompted concerns that children were being “parked on pills”, rather than being offered counselling to tackle the root of their concerns.

Children often face lengthy waiting times for treatment as NHS Lothian has repeatedly struggled to meet Scottish Government targets for prompt access to talking therapies.

Despite improvements, only 66 per cent of youngsters were seen within the 18-week target from January to March of this year.

Miles Briggs, Tory mental health spokesman and Lothian MSP, said: “These figures which show a year-on-year increase in the number of young people being prescribed antidepressants are deeply concerning.

“I am especially alarmed at the rise in the number of children taking antidepressants.

“While we have always said that there is a role for medication in treating mild-to-moderate depression, we want to see a new focus on the provision of social prescribing and swift access to talking therapies, with antidepressant medication as a last resort.

“The Scottish Government must also ensure that the NHS has the systems in place to support our young people to come off antidepressants and not just park them on pills as a long-term solution.”

Pressures from social media and cyber bullying are among the problems facing young people, as well as more traditional concerns such as body image, stress at school and family breakdowns, according to the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC).

A SCSC spokesperson said: “We are facing an epidemic in youth mental health problems.

“For too long we have focused on treating the symptom rather than the contributing factors of poor mental health. We need a renewed focus on early intervention and preventative measure so that our young people do not reach the stage of requiring antidepressant prescription.

“We must provide well-resourced services, such as talking therapies, to tackle issues such as depression, before resorting to the prescription pad.”

NHS Lothian said more young people were seeking treatment than ever before, due to better education and a reduction in stigma around mental health.

Professor Alex McMahon, nursing director at NHS Lothian, said: “We offer a range of treatments for children and young people suffering from mental health issues and this is dependent on the needs of each individual patient.

“Where antidepressants are being prescribed, it is in line with good clinical practice.”