Antidepressants: number of prescriptions for teenagers has now reached a million

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Mental health experts are saying this rise comes off the back of the pandemic

The number of teenagers who have prescriptions for antidepressants has reached one million in a year for the first time, new data has revealed.

The figures revealed one in 300 children aged 13 had been prescribed an antidepressant, but by the age of 19, one in 10 were taking them.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In 2022, 173,000 children aged 13 to 19 are using antidepressants, which rose by 6,000.

A bottle of anti-depressant pills named Paxil (Image:  Joe Raedle/Getty Images)A bottle of anti-depressant pills named Paxil (Image:  Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A bottle of anti-depressant pills named Paxil (Image: Joe Raedle/Getty Images) | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

GP prescriptions for antidepressants to teenagers over the course of a year reached 1,005,972 - the highest on record.

Mental health experts said it was “further evidence of a significant decline in the mental health of young people” on the back of the pandemic.

Dr. Susie Davies, founder of Parents Against Phone Addiction in Young Adolescents said: “The pandemic appears to have exacerbated an already strong, downward trend in well-being which corresponds directly to the increased popularity of the smartphone and social media.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

NHS data revealed one in 10 of 17 to 19 year olds had a “probable mental disorder” before the pandemic, which increased to one in four last year, highlighting how people’s mental health was among the hardest hit during the pandemic.

A study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies found that almost half of parents thought lockdown had “damaged the emotional development” of their children.

Doctors are not recommended to prescribe antidepressants to under-18s due to links with an increase in suicidal ideation and self-harm, but NHS guidance says they can be prescribed in cases of moderate to severe depression alongside talking therapies and under psychiatrist supervision.

Marjorie Wallace, founder and chief executive of mental health charity SANE, said children should only be given antidepressants “as a last resort” but GPs were “left with no choice because child and adolescent mental health services are overwhelmed”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She said: “We urgently need more specialist units, better training for mental health staff and early response to cries for help from teenagers and their families.”

In the six months up to February 2023, more than 432,500 under-18s were referred to children and young people’s mental health services which is more than double the same period pre-pandemic, or three years earlier.

Antidepressants are prescribed for a range of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Sometimes doctors can prescribe them off-label to help with issues like insomnia, pain or migraines.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.