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GPs giving antidepressants to children against guidelines

GPs are breaching medical guidelines by prescribing antidepressants for children as young as 11 who cannot get other help for their mental health problems, NHS-funded research reveals.

Official guidance says that under-18s should only be given the drugs in conjunction with talking therapies and after being assessed by a psychiatrist.

But family doctors in England are “often” writing prescriptions for antidepressants for that age group even though such youngsters have not yet seen a psychiatrist, according to a report by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), the NHS research body.

The report linked the prescriptions to the long wait many young people, some self-harming or suicidal, face before starting treatment with NHS child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). Under-18s are prescribed the drugs for anxiety, depression, pain and bedwetting.

The guidance on antidepressants has been issued by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which advises the NHS on which treatments are effective.

Referencing NICE’s recommendation of a two-step approval process, the NIHR study said “this often” did not happen. “No antidepressants are licensed in the UK for anxiety in children and teenagers under 18 years, except for obsessive compulsive disorder. Yet both specialists [psychiatrists] and GPs prescribe them. Thousands of children and teenagers in the UK are taking antidepressants for depression and anxiety. The numbers continue to rise and many have not seen a specialist.”

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Source: The Guardian, 4 November 2022


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