The number of children prescribed anti-depressants has quadrupled over a six-year period to 2017, new figures show.
Data on anti-depressant use among those aged 15 and under shows 301 individual medical card holders were given the medication in 2011.
That figure reached 823 by 2016 and 1,289 by November of last year. The upward curve in prescription rates reflects that of the general adult population.
Fianna Fáil spokesman on mental health James Browne, who sought the data, said he was worried about a lack of treatment options.
“My concern would be that due to the lack of alternative clinical pathways, [GPS] are having to fall back on medication,” he said.
In a pre-budget submission, the Irish Association for Counselling and Physiotherapy (IACP) said Ireland should consider a counselling-centred approach to mental health similar to that operated by the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK.
Figures show more than 390,000 people, or about a quarter of medical card holders, in Ireland were prescribed anti-depressant medication to combat a variety of psychological conditions in 2016. That number represents an increase of about 50,000 on 2012 rates.
The Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) points out that the State spent €40 million on anti-depressant medications in 2016 compared with €10 million on counselling in primary care.
Access to therapy
While there is a general medical view that mental health treatment should combine medication and therapy, the IACP has asked the Government to explore the introduction of a similar level of access to therapy offered by the Counselling for Depression programme in the UK, used to treat mild to moderate depression.
“This programme aims to make therapy free on the NHS for what is referred to in the UK as low-intensity mental illness, where previously medication was almost the only option,” it says.
Early treatment of mental health problems, it says, would mean fewer people needing more costly crisis services at a later stage.
The Department of Health has said treatment approaches are the choice of healthcare providers.
Consultant psychiatrist Dr Matthew Sadlier said the true rate of anti-depressant use in Ireland could only be properly understood when taken alongside figures for non-medical card holders, but this information is lacking.