Why are so many children being prescribed antidepressants in the North West?

Blog by Anna Youssef

Ellie is 16. She likes Snapchat, cheese toasties and rollercoasters.

She passed her GCSEs with flying colours and wants to be a nurse.

Ellie's been taking antidepressants since she was 13 after she started self-harming and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

It’s an ambivalent relationship.

Ellie thinks they probably saved her life but she also thinks they numb her and stop her from really feeling anything.

What Ellie really wants and what’s helped in the past is talking therapy but she’s been told by her local Child and Adolescent Services (CAMHS) she will have to wait for 6- 8 months.

These days the medication isn’t enough. She’s struggling and has dropped out of college.

That’s Ellie's story but she isn't alone.

A Freedom of Information Request I submitted revealed in the North West alone there were 76,960 prescriptions for antidepressants issued to under 18’s for the year ending April 2019.

That’s a rise of 13.8% over the past three years.

And some of those prescriptions were for children as young as five.

These are the facts. They shocked me.

  • One in eight children and young people have a diagnosable mental health condition.

  • Referrals to CAMHS have increased by 45% in the past two years and A&E attendances by young people with mental health problems have almost tripled in the past decade.

  • One in four 11-16 year olds with a mental health condition have self-harmed or been suicidal.

  • Suicide remains the leading cause of death for both males and females aged 5-19.

  • Funding for CAMHS equates to around 1% of the total NHS budget and just under 9% of mental health expenditure.

  • Only one in three children and young people with a diagnosable mental health condition receives NHS care or treatment.

Researching this issue I spoke to so many young people and families who simply couldn’t get the help they needed.

I heard about long waiting times, inconsistent services, and such high thresholds for treatment that even young people who are self-harming or feeling suicidal aren’t always referred for support.

This is despite the fact that, after years of underfunding, the government committed an extra £1.4 billion to CAMHS over five years in 2015.

Talking to these young people and their parents it’s clear they don’t see where this extra money went.

This isn’t a reflection on the dedicated professionals who work for these services.

Their frustration was often palpable. One clinician I spoke to said the NHS will never be able to meet the scale of need on its own. She said that in addition to investing in NHS mental health services, it was clear there needs to be a radical new approach to prevent the development and escalation of mental health problems in children and young people.

The general feeling seems to be if something isn’t done now, we'll be in danger of failing another generation of young people.

Nick Harrop works for the charity YoungMinds.

Don't suffer alone - seek help

YoungMinds is an independent national charity. It has a young persons and parents helpline.

42nd Street is a Greater Manchester charity that supports young people aged 11-25* years with their emotional wellbeing and mental health, promoting choice and creativity.

Samaritans operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year.

Childline (0800 1111 )runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK.Calls are free and the number won’t show up on your phone bill.

PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.

CAMHSis the NHS service for all children and young people who have issues with their emotional or behavioural wellbeing.

Young Person’s Advisory Service (YPAS) is a Liverpool based charity that supports the mental health and emotional wellbeing needs of children, young people (age 5 – 25 years) and families.