It is unsurprising to read this headline in the press recently: “Prescriptions surge for children’s anxiety medicines”.
We know that the dramatic rise in children’s mental health symptoms preceded the pandemic and is amplified by the effects of lockdowns and re-entry into a globally unstable world. The shortage of psychological help and long waiting times purportedly contribute to this rise in GP prescribing, but isn’t it time to ask if psychopharmacology and professional psychological treatments are delivering the expected efficacy?
Is the mental health medicalising of childhood anxieties contributing to the problem? Children are being focused on as mentally unwell, and parents feel increasingly inadequate in helping. Instead, they are investing hope in professional experts and medications that are not turning the tide on this young people’s mental health epidemic.
Most research dollars go into pharmaceutical treatments, followed by established university research commitments. While these offerings support many children, it is time to ask if they should continue to be the priority approaches for building resilience in the next generations. Where are the research dollars for parent support and social prescribing (non-medical prescriptions to social activities; to information or guidance; to a community group; or learning and skills)?
At the end of 2021, the National Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy1 was released. It refreshingly, indeed radically, advocates for a move away from diagnostic labels to describing children’s levels of functioning. This reduction in the sickness narrative with a shift to descriptions of children’s life coping is an essential change of direction. Additionally, it speaks to the necessity of supporting parents as they remain the biggest influences on children’s emotional environments.
Policy documents mean nothing if they are not translated into service offerings. So, let’s start a serious dialogue about supporting children’s functioning instead of treating diagnoses, improving access to meaningful children’s community and school engagements, and, perhaps most significantly, introducing programs to bolster parents’ confidence in being a resilience-building resource for their children.
Dr Jenny Brown
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