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BACKGROUND: Antidepressants may be used to manage a number of conditions in children and young people including depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. UK guidelines for the treatment of depression in children and young people recommend that antidepressants should only be initiated following assessment and diagnosis by a child and adolescent psychiatrist. The aim of this study was to summarise visits to mental health specialists and indications recorded around the time of antidepressant initiation in children and young people in UK primary care. METHODS: The study used linked English primary care electronic health records and Hospital Episode Statistics secondary care data. The study included 5-17-year-olds first prescribed antidepressants between January 2006 and December 2017. Records of visits to paediatric or psychiatric specialists and potential indications (from a pre-specified list) were extracted. Events were counted if recorded less than 12 months before or 6 months after the first antidepressant prescription. Results were stratified by first antidepressant type (all, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic and related antidepressants) and by age group (5-11 years, 12-17 years). RESULTS: In total, 33,031 5-17-year-olds were included. Of these, 12,149 (37%) had a record of visiting a paediatrician or a psychiatric specialist in the specified time window. The majority of recorded visits (7154, 22%) were to paediatricians. Of those prescribed SSRIs, 5463/22,130 (25%) had a record of visiting a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Overall, 17,972 (54%) patients had a record of at least one of the pre-specified indications. Depression was the most frequently recorded indication (12,501, 38%), followed by anxiety (4155, 13%). CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest many children and young people are being prescribed antidepressants without the recommended involvement of a relevant specialist. These findings may justify both greater training for GPs in child and adolescent mental health and greater access to specialist care and non-pharmacological treatments. Further research is needed to explore factors that influence how and why GPs prescribe antidepressants to children and young people and the real-world practice barriers to adherence to clinical guidelines.

Original publication

DOI

10.1186/s12916-020-01560-7

Type

Journal article

Journal

BMC Med

Publication Date

30/04/2020

Volume

18

Keywords

Adolescent, Antidepressants, Anxiety, Child, Depression, Epidemiology, Mental health, Primary health care, SSRIs