An increase in prescribing antidepressants to children in England peaked with each of the three national lockdowns during the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, an analysis of data claims.
While the number of patients aged to 17 being prescribed antidepressants has been increasing, National Health Service (NHS) data obtained by The Pharmaceutical Journal and published on Wednesday revealed that rise accelerated during the pandemic, with three distinct peaks: in March 2020, November 2020, and January 2021.
During the March 2020 lockdown, the first during the pandemic, 27,757 young people were prescribed antidepressants — an eight per cent increase on March 2019. That month saw for the first time the number of young females being prescribed the drugs exceeding 17,000, with 17,902 in total.
December 2020 and January 2021, around the time of the latter two lockdowns, also saw antidepressant prescriptions for young females exceeding 17,000.
Individual NHS trusts, including in Sussex and Hampshire, saw similar trends during the three lockdown periods.
A London advanced mental health pharmacist, Beryl Navti, told the journal: “These periods correspond approximately to the first, second and third lockdown periods and the reasons are wide-ranging, depending on your focus.”
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Ms Navti continued: “Antidepressants are prescribed for both depression and anxiety disorders, and if we are saying that levels of anxiety increased amongst some young people during these periods, it makes sense that there would have been a corresponding increase in prescribed medication.
“In patients already diagnosed with anxiety disorders or depression and prescribed medication, there could have been increase in demand for repeat prescriptions every time a lockdown was announced, and as community pharmacies remained open, it stands to reason that prescribing costs would reflect these spikes in demand.”
The report comes after an investigation by The Telegraph revealed this week that some 1.5 million children and young people will need treatment for mental health issues as a result of more than a year of lockdowns and restrictions, with mental health specialists describing children as young as five having anxiety attacks, including related to playing with other children.
Children’s Commissioner for England Dame Rachel De Souza described the phenomenon as “locked-in trauma”, with children struggling with the return to everyday life and the normal social interactions that entails, including talking and making friends with peers.
Child psychologists and medics across the UK have also noticed in the past year a rise in the number of children arriving at accident and emergency wards after self-harming, with claims those with mental health problems were getting younger.
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