A leading mental health charity has warned an increasing number of young people are reaching crisis, amid a sharp rise in the rate of antidepressants being prescribed to Tayside’s teenagers.
Figures obtained via a Freedom of Information request reveal prescriptions of antidepressant drugs to youngsters aged 10-17 in the region increased by 15% last year, with the largest number handed out to those aged 13 and older.
The sharpest rise was seen among 17-year-olds, where prescriptions increased from 289 in 2016/17 to 367 in 2017/18. Children as young as five, and at least four under the age of 10, were also given the drugs last year.
NHS Tayside stressed the number of prescribed antidepressants should not be used to infer a rise in the number of patients with depression.
The health authority said the medication can be used for a wide range of conditions, including pain and bedwetting.
However, mental health campaigners have expressed concern at the figures and insisted they show more young people in the region are struggling with their mental health.
Toni Giugliano, policy manager at the Mental Health Foundation Scotland, said: “The numbers are worrying but sadly not surprising.
“We need to do more to identify and tackle the root causes, and create emotionally healthy school environments where young people are taught how to manage stressful situations.
“It’s remarkable that many teachers still do not receive basic mental health training. Organisations have been calling for this for the last decade and we still haven’t made significant progress.”
Mr Giugliano said a small percentage of the rise might be attributable to a growing awareness of mental wellbeing. However, he said studies showed young people increasingly felt overwhelmed by pressure to succeed, body image and stress.
“I think we need to be careful with how we interpret figures like this because the wider research indicates that this generation is struggling more than previous ones with their mental health,” he said.
“Often young people are being judged on their academic performance but these stats, to me, indicate that we need to be doing more in schools to really make mental health count too.”
Brook Marshall, founder of the Dundee charity Feeling Strong, which supports young people living with mental health problems, said he was concerned antidepressants could be being used as a “stopgap” for patients left waiting on specialist treatment.
He said: “We have been told by a significant number of young people that accessing services can be incredibly difficult. We believe that there is a mental health epidemic among young people in Tayside and that needs to be addressed.”
An NHS Tayside spokeswoman said: “The rates of psychiatric disorders increase significantly during teenage years and into early adulthood.
“This is thought to be related to multiple factors including the onset of puberty and physiological changes in the brain as well as multiple social factors.
“NHS Tayside works collaboratively with all partners to optimise outcomes for children and young people in Tayside, particularly through the Tayside Plan for Children, Young People & Families 2017-2020.”