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Last Updated: Monday, 23 July 2007, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
Child depression drug use soars
Lonely child
It is unclear if children's mental health really is deteriorating
The number of prescriptions handed out to children under 16 for depression and mental health disorders has quadrupled in a decade, official figures indicate.

GPs in England wrote more than 631,000 such prescriptions for children in the last financial year, compared to just 146,000 in the mid-1990s.

But at the same time, figures suggest the rate of mental health problems in the young has not changed markedly.

GPs rejected charges they dish out drugs too freely.

The drug figures were obtained by David Laws, the Liberal Democrat shadow children's secretary.

He said: "I think it is a major concern that drugs seem to be prescribed so easily these days to children of school age.

"In the past, not only were there not as many of these types of drugs on the market, there was an assumption, I think, that people would try to get to the source of the problem, rather than simply prescribing drugs."

Alternative therapies

The Department of Children, Schools and Family said it was committed in helping "every child to have a happy and healthy childhood".

GPs consider the need for antidepressants only after a careful assessment of the patients' clinical condition
Professor Mayur Lakhani

A spokesperson added that it had recently pledged 60m to support schools work with "mental health practitioners and others to improve the emotional well-being of pupils".

But there is also some debate as to whether mental health disorders really are rising within the young.

In its last major report on the prevalence of such problems in 2004, the Office of National Statistics found the figures were broadly unchanged from a previous survey in 1999.

One in 10 were found to have some form of disorder, ranging from the very minor to the very serious.

These latest figures on child prescriptions follow others which suggest that that the rate of anti-depressant prescriptions for the population as a whole has hit a record high.

More than 31m prescriptions for these drugs were issued in 2006 - a 6% rise on the year before.

The Royal College of General Practitioners accepted that depression could nt be cured by pills alone, and that better access to alternative therapies was essential.

However its chairman, Professor Mayur Lakhani, has rejected the suggestion that family doctors prescribe anti-depressants too readily.

"GPs consider the need for anti-depressants only after a careful assessment of the patient's clinical condition," he said.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, said: "While in some cases there may be a need for medication as part of a treatment plan, drugs should not be seen as the only solution.

"Children's mental health problems need to be tackled at the root by making therapy more widely available, by examining the causes and by encouraging better awareness amongst children themselves, parents, teachers and GPs."

Call for mental heath care push
11 May 07 |  Health

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