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Preschoolers Leading the Growth in Use of Antidepressants

Child depression

Children 5 years old and younger are the fastest-growing population using antidepressants today says a study published in the journal Psychiatric Services. This makes preschooler leading the growth in the use of antidepressants.

The number of 2- to 4-year-olds on psychiatric drugs including Ritalin and antidepressants like Prozac jumped 50 percent between 1991 and 1995, researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association which is confirming that preschoolers seem to be the leading the growth in the use of antidepressants.

The Mental Health Foundation is troubled by the use of antidepressants to treat preschoolers, following recent media reports that say very young children can experience major depression.

“While early treatment for depression is important at any age, the foundation doesn’t want to see children being given powerful psychiatric drugs,” says Judi Clements, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation. “Antidepressants have potentially severe side-effects and we fear the safety and efficacy of giving them to children; there has been little research on the effects of such medication on the very young. What we would emphasise for a child’s mental wellbeing and development is the importance of a supportive environment and sound parenting.”

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Sue Treanor, Director for Workforce Development at the Werry Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, University of Auckland, echoes these concerns. “There is still a great deal to learn about children’s developing brains and the impacts that such medications may have,” she says. “We do know that there are well researched therapies that, along with support from families, have been shown to help children overcome emotional and behavioural difficulties.”

The study, Express Scripts Inc. of St. Louis, which conducted the study, found that use among girls doubled from eight per 10,000 to 16 per 10,000 during the four-year study period. Among preschool boys, antidepressant use rose by 64 percent, from 14 per 10,000 to 23 per 10,000.

Glen Elliott child psychiatrist at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco stated that HMOs are encouraging quick diagnoses, working parents often can't be home to enforce structured behavior-improvement programs, and everyone seems to want "quick fixes.”

Since the number of preschool children that are being treated with stimulants, antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs is on the rise, despite limited research and a lack of clinical practice guidelines, child mental health professionals from the Bradley. Hasbro Children's Research Center and 11 other institutions are developing recommendations for specific disorders to help clinicians who are considering medications for children ages 3 to 6.

Materials from the New York Times, Mental Health Foundation, MSNBC News Services and USA Today are used in this report.

Written by Tyler Woods Ph.D.
Tucson, Arizona
Exclusive to eMaxHealth