The use of powerful psychiatric drugs is soaring among Australian children as young as 10, research shows.
The number of prescriptions for antipsychotic drugs jumped 49 per cent among 10 to 14 year olds over a four-year period, according to a study of government subsidised prescriptions.
The number of prescriptions for antidepressants increased by more than a third in that age group, according to figures for 2009 to 2012 published in the latest issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.
Among people of all age groups, the study shows a 26 per cent increase in ADHD medication, a 23 per cent increase in antipsychotics and a 16 per cent increase in antidepressants.
There has been a 35 per cent jump in the use of the ADHD medication Ritalin.
Part of the reason for this is an increase in the number of teenagers and adults using the medication.
The study shows ADHD medication increased 71 per cent for 20 to 24 year olds and 37 per cent for people aged 25 and older.
The rise was 26 per cent for children aged three to nine, 15 per cent for 10 to 14 year olds, 33 per cent for 15 to 19 year olds.
Research leader Professor Iain McGregor called for a discussion about whether the benefits of medication outweigh the hazards, particularly in children and in those suffering mild to moderate distress.
“We need to have a national debate about what is driving this phenomenon.
“Why are we so reliant on meds for our mental wellbeing?”
Clinical Psychologist Andrew Fuller described the study as “massively” concerning, but not surprising.
“We seem to have a growing proportion of young people showing signs of vulnerability in terms of mental health issues.
Some of the prescriptions could be partly because of the agitation of the patient or their parent, or anxiety of the doctor who wants to resolve the issue as quickly as possible, he says.
“Often the medication is seen as the solution. ADHD medication is highly prescribed, but sadly very rarely given together with other forms of treatment.
“For depression, talk therapy is very powerful. So is exercise or meditation techniques.”
These could be used on their own or together with medication, he says. But they take longer than medication to kick in.