It was reported earlier this year in the Weekend Australian that over 100,000 Australian children were prescribed antidepressants in 2017/18 – a doubling over the last six years. This should sound alarm bells even though the health department attributed some of the increase to a different data collection.
Cautious use of any mind-altering substance in children should be paramount. No antidepressants have ever been trialed satisfactorily in children. In 2015 it emerged that certain antidepressants could actually increase the likelihood of teens committing suicide. It was alleged that this finding was covered up and litigation has followed in the USA.
There is a central question here. Is the mental health of this generation of children that much worse than prior ones, or are we getting better at detection or is something else going on?
It is likely a combination of all of the above.
Awareness of mental health problems and suitable treatment is a good thing. However, broadening of definitions to make normal human emotion a “condition” is not. A friend told me the tale of an 11 year old whom is due to start at a new school and will need to take the train. It was suggested to the child that he go with an adult to the train station as a trial run and then do a second trial run by himself with the adult hovering in the background.
The response was – you are stressing me which causes anxiety. This is not the words of an 11 year old but the parroting of what was taught in a health education class. It is normal to expect some trepidation about a new school and transport arrangements. This is not a mental health illness. It is a normal human response to a situation. The solution is to practice what is required and thereby get used to doing it. The trepidation felt will reduce as familiarity steps in. The solution is not a pill and a course of counselling. After all school is not optional.
That a normal human response to a challenge in life can be reframed as anxiety which is a medical term is a problem. Once reframed the solution to anxiety becomes medical rather than overcoming the natural fear.
The other contributing factor in mental health issues on children is the increasing diet of fear and paranoia which is fed to them. They are taught variably that the world is a dangerous place (it has dangers but has it ever been safer) or that it is going to end in a decade! They are also often conditioned to believe they lack the resilience and ability to withstand any challenge. Even non-challenges like hearing ideas (or reading words) they don’t agree with is presented as a threat to their mental health
We know that the youngest children in a class are far more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD simply because they are younger and less developed than their peers. How many children with genuine fears which can be solved are told their problem is a mental health one?
Rather than helping our children with life we are feeding them a diet of fear, telling them they are unable to cope, and medicating their normal emotions. Not surprisingly this does not end well. We can and need to be better!
Medical Doctor, author, speaker, media presenter and health industry consultant, Dr Joe Kosterich wants you to be healthy and get the most out of life.
Joe writes for numerous medical and mainstream publications, is clinical editor at Medical Forum Magazine, and is also a regular on radio and television.
Joe is Medical Advisor to Medicinal Cannabis Company Little Green Pharma, Chairman of Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association and sits on the board of Arthritis and Osteoporosis WA. He is often called to give opinions in medico legal cases.