Health experts are concerned about a large increase in Australian children and young people being prescribed strong drugs such as anti-depressants and anti-psychotic medications.
University of Sydney researchers looked at prescribing patterns for children and adolescents from 2009 to 2012.
The number of children aged between 10 and 14 given antidepressants jumped by more than a third, while anti-psychotic medications rose by almost 50 per cent.
Prescriptions to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) rose by 26.1 per cent.
Health experts are concerned about the large increase in prescriptions, as few of the drugs have been trialled on children and can have serious side effects.
Emily Karanges from the University’s School of Psychology says antidepressants and anti-psychotic medications can have serious side effects.
“These are very strong drugs and children and adolescents tend to be more susceptible to side effects from these drugs runs,” Dr Karanges said.
“All people on anti-psychotics are prone to weight gain, obesity, diabetes and those effects seem to be more pronounced in children.”
The study found prescription for males was more common during childhood for all investigated drug classes, while two-thirds of adult antidepressant prescribing was to female patients.
The findings are published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.
Ritalin use jumped 35pc over four years: study
The number of children being diagnosed with mental health disorders has been rising across Australia, and figures may not reflect the actual number of children with conditions.
Anti-psychotic drug use jumped more than 20 per cent across the study period and was increasingly being prescribed for problems such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, disruptive behaviour, dementia, depression and insomnia, something which the authors say is a major concern.
Use of the main ADHD medication Ritalin jumped 35 per cent in Australia over four years.
University of Sydney’s Professor Iain McGregor, also a co-author of the study, says antidepressants are less effective in depressed children and adolescents than in adults.
“Why are we so reliant on meds for our mental wellbeing?
“We also need to debate whether the benefits of medication outweigh the hazards, particularly in children and in those suffering only mild to moderate psychological distress,” he said.
One in five young Australians are dealing with a serious mental illness but more than 60 per cent feel uncomfortable seeking professional support, according to a report from Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute released yesterday.
For children with severe depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, treatment can range from medication and therapy to electroshock therapy.
Legislation in Victoria allows psychiatrists to use electroshock therapy to treat depression and other disorders in children under the age of 13.
In Western Australia, children as young as 14 can agree to the treatment, which is now known as electro-convulsive therapy.
This article first appeared on ‘ABC’ on 19 June 2014.