If you want to see how much a government is failing its children, check out how many of these young people are taking antidepressants.
A report released this week found that the drug was prescribed to more than 27,000 children last year, up 40 percent from five years ago. The number rose during the initial lockdown, while NHS figures show that between April and December 2020, the number of children referred to mental health services rose 28 percent, adding 80,000 more cases.
Even before the pandemic, the child psychiatric services – all psychiatric services – had to struggle. In 2018, a panoramic study found that many children were only adequately cared for after attempting suicide and that the child and adolescent psychiatric services (CAMHS) were “not fit for purpose” due to years of government underfunding.
Meanwhile, a survey earlier this year found that every third child had waited at least a year for their first appointment. In south London the waiting time was 1,497 days – more than four years.
Graham Brown, Senior Child and Adolescent Pharmacist for Mental Health at the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, summed up the problem aptly: âThe waiting lists are very long, which means that medication is becoming the standard option. When a young person is crying out for help and you know they will not be seen for six months, it is not ethical to withhold anything that could help. “
Antidepressants play an important role in helping people with mental illness – a far more important role than they should, as they are essentially the only treatment offered, despite guidelines that say that children should only be prescribed medication in addition to talk therapy .
I’m not against antidepressants as many are – I’ve been taking them myself since I was a kid and I’m not sure I would be alive if I didn’t take the 60 mg fluoxetine daily. But antidepressants are not a panacea for mental illness, any more than pain relievers are a panacea for broken limbs. If ibuprofen were all the NHS makes available every time a child breaks their arm, there would be an outcry, and rightly so.
But the equivalent happens every day in mental health services: children are wrapped up with a prescription and the vague promise of adequate counseling in the future. God help you if you grow up while waiting to be seen by CAMHS – you will be spat out again to start the whole process over.
Some will view the rise in children’s mental health as further evidence of the snowflake society, but they miss the point in spectacular ways. According to Mental Health First Aid England, 75 percent of mental illnesses begin before the age of 18. With proper treatment, these children can lead reasonably happy and healthy adult lives. Without treatment, mental illness can quickly spiral out of control – and those who fail to pay for treatment in childhood can be almost certain that they will be paid for later, be it in the form of unemployment, criminal law, or old-fashioned physical health problems.
And once you’ve taken antidepressants, it’s very difficult to get off them. I know because I tried last month. My doctor agreed that my circumstances at 40 were very different from my circumstances at 17 when my OCD made it almost impossible to leave the house. She suggested lowering the dose. I lasted for four days before the strokes and mood swings made me realize it just wasn’t worth the effort.
This is what happens when you prescribe medication to children instead of giving them talk-about therapy, as was routine when I was first prescribed antidepressants in 1997. Symptoms are treated vaguely, but the cause remains unsolved until the patient reaches the crisis point – in my case, suicidal ideation and addiction problems 20 years later. And I’m one of the lucky ones.
You must forgive my language here, but I am distressed that next to nothing has changed in our approach to children’s mental health since the 1990s. A Daily telegraph This week’s report found that 1.5 million children are in need of mental health treatment after the lockdown. Yet there is no emergency kit for CAMHS, only our Mental Health Minister, Nadine Dorries, who gaslit those referred to the service as saying that it will only be kept for “those with serious, lifelong mental illness.” should. Unlike the frivolous, volatile guy Dorries seems to believe most have kids.
Will nobody think of the children? Not in this government, no.
You can read Column by Bryony Gordon every Saturday. Click here to read last week’s column