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Teenagers are most likely to seek help for anxiety or depression at the start of the school year, says new study

Teenagers are more likely to visit their GP about depression and anxiety at the start of the school year in the autumn, according to new research led by experts from the University of Nottingham.

In recent years there has been an increase in mental health issues and antidepressant prescribing in children and young people, however specialist mental health services in the UK are currently struggling to meet these increased demands.  

Members of a Young Person’s Advisory Group asked whether there are particular periods in the year when adolescents have more mental health issues.

A new study, published in BMJ Mental Health, looked at the anonymised electronic health records from GPs of 5 million people in England over a 13-year period, to determine whether there are seasonal patterns in antidepressant prescribing and consultations for mental health issues in adolescents and young adults.

The research was led by Dr Ruth Jack from the Centre for Academic Primary Care, Lifespan and Population Health in the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham.

Information from QResearch* about antidepressant prescribing and mental health events between 2006 and 2019 was used. People were grouped into males and females in three age groups: 14-18 years (adolescents), 19-23 years and 24-28 years.

The first record of depression, anxiety and self-harm, as well as the first antidepressant prescription if (it was a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) ) was included. Antidepressant prescribing, depression and anxiety incidence rates were higher in autumn months for adolescents, but not for the older groups.

Recorded self-harm was lowest in August for adolescents, and relatively stable throughout the year for the other groups. The findings suggest that support for adolescents around mental health issues from GPs and others should be focused during the autumn.

Dr Ruth Jack said: “Our large study of over 5 million people in England shows that teenagers are more likely to visit their GPs for mental health issues in the autumn. Rates started to increase in September, and peaked in November. The start of a new school year can be a particularly difficult time and it’s great that people are seeking help. 

“By understanding the changing demand for services at different times of the year, GPs, teachers and others who support teenagers can make sure there are enough resources and help available when it’s most needed.”

The study was funded by the NIHR School for Primary Care Research.

The paper will be published here on Thursday 2 November.

Source: Newswise