Hundreds of children across Scotland are being prescribed anti-depressants to tackle mental health problems, with the number of users having doubled in recent years.
There are now calls for greater access to therapists, amid fears that youngsters could be “parked” on pills as a long-term solution.
It has emerged that the amount of under-21s taking prescribed anti-depressants has almost doubled in recent years to nearly 24,000 last year. This includes 1,123 children under 15 who were given antidepressant prescriptions to deal with mental health issues, up from 560 in 2009.
Conservative mental health spokesman Miles Briggs MSP said: “These figures which show a year on year increase in the number of young people being prescribed anti-depressants are deeply concerning.
“I am especially alarmed at the rise in the number of children taking anti-depressants.
“While we have always said that there is a role for medication in treating mild to moderate depression, we want to see a new focus on the provision of social prescribing and swift access to talking therapies, with anti-depressant medication as a last resort.
“The Scottish Government must also ensure that the NHS has the systems in place to support our young people to come off anti-depressants and not just park them on pills as a long-term solution.”
The SNP promised in 2007 to cut the annual increase in anti-depressant prescribing to zero by 2009-10 and then 10 per cent in the following years.
The latest figures have prompted calls for a broader mental health strategy from ministers to support young people in Scotland.
The Scottish Government insisted the evidence showed that GPs assess and treat depression “appropriately”.
A spokesman said: “We are keen that people receive the treatment they need for mental health problems, including where this means receiving medication. We have seen more people being prescribed anti-depressants as a result of better identification of those requiring treatment, better diagnosis and a reduction in stigma attached to mental health.
“In addition, waiting times have decreased significantly despite a rise in the number of people seeking help.”