Australian children from poorer families – including babies under one-years-old – are more likely to be prescribed antipsychotic drugs for behaviour problems than others the same age.
The lead researcher, Amy Kaim from the University of Adelaide, said the findings were based on 65 children, who were part of a longitudinal study following 10,000 children from birth to 15 years.
“A larger proportion of children and teens taking the medication were boys, in lower-income families, with an unemployed primary caregiver, who were living in single-parent households.”
Of those children prescribed antipsychotic medicine in their first year of life, 81 percent were male.
The children had poorer health and education outcomes than their peers, she said.
“Their parents were more likely to report that their child had behavioural difficulties and they were more likely to have repeated a grade in school and to have lower school achievement.”
Other risk factors included being a child in a family dealing with stressful life events and financial problems, parenting practices and whether parents themselves were in psychological distress.
The study would continue to monitor the children and teens’ medication use as they moved through adolescence into adulthood, she said.
“We hope that our study will contribute to a growing recognition of the need to look at the social factors which influence kids’ mental health, rather than resorting to antipsychotics for the treatment of behavioural problems in Australian children and adolescents.”
The study will be presented to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists Annual Congress in Auckland this week.
Its president, Dr Kym Jenkins, said the study was “a strong reminder of the importance of considering social and psychological facts in particular in child and adolescent mental health”. /radionz