Background: The prevalence of antidepressant prescribing in children and adolescents increased steadily in the United States and parts of Europe between 2005 and 2012 despite regulatory safety warnings. Little is known about the characteristics of those being prescribed antidepressants for the first time.
Methods: A longitudinal study of antidepressant prescribing in 3–17 year olds was carried out using data from the UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) between 2000 and 2015. Changes in the incidence of first ever antidepressant prescriptions and the characteristics of those being prescribed them was examined.
Results: Incidence of first ever prescriptions nearly doubled between 2006 and 2015 rising from 1.60 (95%CI: 1.51, 1.69) to 3.12 (3.00, 3.25) per 1000 person years. Only 21% of the 1721 patients with incident prescriptions in 2015 could be linked to a depression diagnosis, with an additional 22% of prescriptions linked to alternative indications. The incidence of prescriptions linked to a depression diagnosis increased between 2012 and 2015, with an adjusted incidence rate ratio of 1.46 (1.26, 1.70). Antidepressant prescribing for
depression and other indications has been increasing most rapidly in 15 to 17 year old females.
Limitations: Diagnoses are not directly linked to prescriptions in CPRD, so linkage must be inferred by temporal proximity.
Conclusions: Antidepressant prescribing in children increased between 2006 and 2015. This is, at least in part, due to a rise in alternative uses of antidepressants, including the treatment of anxiety, chronic pain and migraines.