The number of children on anti-depressant pills has doubled in six years to 100,000 as clinicians warn that Australia is edging towards a mental health crisis.
The drastic increase in use of the mental health drugs are understood to reflect greater public awareness about depression and anxiety.
Medical professor Ian Hickie of the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre said the increase in the prescription drugs was also influenced by socio-economic factors.
The number of children on anti-depressant pills has doubled in six years to 100,000 as clinicians warn about Australia’s mental health crisis (stock image)
The affluent areas of major cities were more likely to have access to the costly psychological services – while doctors in less affluent areas could potentially prescribe the drugs to bridge the gap between expensive therapy.
‘Medicines go up where psychological therapies go down,’ Dr Hickie told The Australian.
In response to a mental health crisis across the country, Dr Hickie said: ‘I say we are still getting to the tip of the iceberg.’
According to the Department of Human Services (DHS) the number of children on antidepressants climbed by 100 per cent – from 50,804 in 2011-12 to 101,174 over the last financial year.
This is the first time the number has soared over the 100,000 mark and the supply of antidepressants across all age groups has increased since 2012-13.
But the most concern was for the younger groups who appear to be rapidly growing when compared to the older cohort.
The drastic increase in use of the mental health drugs are understood to reflect greater public awareness about depression and anxiety (stock image)
The DHS said the increase in numbers could be partially attributed to a change in how numbers were collected as so-called under co-payment prescriptions were now included in the data.
There is also heightened discussion about the affect social media and technology have had on young people and their mental health.
Despite the increase in numbers, Dr Hickie said Australia was a leader in mental health treatment globally but more needed to be addressed.
‘The danger is when there is no serious quality care. The danger is prescribing on its own or inappropriately prescribing,’ Dr Hickie said.
Sebastian Rosenberg from ANU Centre for Mental Health Research warned there was a lack of data about the direction of Australia’s mental health program, claiming ‘we are outcome-blind’.
‘Mental health is a young person’s problem and yet we know very little about the mental health and welfare of young people,’ he said.
There is also heightened discussion about the affect social media and technology have had on young people and their mental health (stock image)
Indigenous communities across Australia have also caused room for concern with Aboriginal children thinking about or attempting suicide.
Last month the government committed an extra $3million to efforts to prevent young Indigenous people from taking their own lives.
In a period of nine days, five Indigenous children took their lives in incidents across the country in January.
Young Indigenous community leaders met with Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt, Indigenous elders and mental health experts in Perth in January, to discuss fast-tracking grassroots suicide prevention efforts.
The meeting was convened after some Indigenous young people took their own lives over the new year, including in Western Australia.
Indigenous communities across Australia have also caused room for concern with Aboriginal children thinking about or attempting suicide (stock image)
Kununurra youth leader Montana Ahwon and Broome youth leader Jacob Corpus say the discussion was much-needed and that they are glad to have had the chance to share their views and insights.
‘I felt like I’ve been heard,’ Ms Ahwon said.
‘(Now) we can put ourselves out there and get work done, and start working towards solutions and strategies and working with our brothers and sisters, our nieces and our nephews.
‘There is change coming.’
The government is also spending $2.32 million over two years to fast-track the rollout of a school-based mental health program developed by Beyond Blue in the Kimberley and Pilbara, Mr Wyatt said on Friday.
Another $1.5 million will be give to youth mental health organisation Headspace over two years to lead the development of a social media campaign, produced by young Indigenous people.