MORE than a million prescriptions for anti-depressants were handed to teenagers last year, shock figures obtained by UK Times on Sunday reveal.
Doctors doled out record numbers of pills including Prozac to youngsters aged 13 to 19 – with a total of 1.118 million doses prescribed.
The number has jumped from 823,000 prescriptions handed out five years ago in 2016, with experts blaming the surge on Covid lockdowns and fears about the future.
The NHS figures – revealed to us under Freedom of Information laws – also show that the number of prescriptions issued to teenagers accelerated last year at the highest rate for five years.
In total last year there were 1,118,000 prescriptions handed out to teens in 2021 – compared with 1,036,000 in 2020. That means an extra 82,000 – or 1,577 each week – were dished out.
NHS guidance states that anti-depressants should only be prescribed to under 18s in cases of moderate or severe depression when they are taken alongside psychological therapy.
In some cases it is believed the side-effects of taking such medication can trigger thoughts of suicide and self-harm.
A survey of schoolchildren in 2017 by the NHS found that almost two percent of girls and one percent of boys were suffering from depression, with many more recorded as experiencing anxiety disorders.
The same survey found that the percentage of children with a mental health problem was much higher when one of their parents was also recorded as suffering from mental health issues.
And a recent Unicef survey ranked the UK 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, saying: “The existing children’s mental health crisis will probably intensify.
“The experiences of lockdown and of economic uncertainty can damage many children’s mental well-being. Children may feel anxious, insecure and fearful for the future.”
Anastasia De Waal, Director of the I Can Be children’s charity, said: “These figures emphasise the difficulties young people are facing around mental health, with analysis presenting a bleak picture of the ongoing effects of the pandemic and economic uncertainties.
“Continuing to raise awareness around mental health and ensuring that clear advice and practical support is made easily accessible for young people and parents, are essential.”
Chris Martin, Chief Executive of The Mix, a charity for under-25s, said: “The continued spike in the usage of antidepressants by young people is really concerning with some as young as 13 being prescribed drugs to deal with their mental health.
“While the use of medication to treat mental health issues can be invaluable, it’s prevalence as the first – or only – course of treatment for young people is worrying.
“It is crucial that young people are informed of other routes available and understand that options such as counselling or improving their sleep, diet and fitness, can all improve their mental wellbeing.”