BALANCING CHILDREN’S MENTAL ILLNESS

Published date05 February 2022
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
There is huge concern among child psychiatrists about the impact on public trust in the use of medication for children with mental illness. Ironically, the revelation of inappropriate prescribing of medication among one group of children could lead to inappropriate non-prescribing of medication to others, due to understandable fears among parents and young patients. Nobody wants their child to turn into a "zombie", as one affected family reported in accompanying media coverage

For parents facing opaque referral processes and notoriously long waiting lists, it must be hard now to dispel the fear that getting their child seen by Camhs might not be the answer they hoped for. While the independent review, led by Dr Sean Maskey, of the treatment of almost 1,300 young people attending South Kerry Camhs over a five-year period found no extreme or catastrophic harm had been caused, hundreds of children received "risky" treatment from one junior doctor and "significant harm" was caused to 46 of them.

For a public generally wary about the idea of medicating young minds, it was immediately a question of: If in Kerry, where else? It reinforced vague suspicions that too many mentally ill children all around the country are being overmedicated to curb problematic behaviour.

That impression is very far off the mark, according to child psychiatrists who believe that, generally, underprescribing is more of an issue, due to societal concern, systemic weaknesses and conditions remaining undiagnosed. Sceptics might respond that "they would say that, wouldn't they?" But psychiatrists point to the science and stress the need for understanding of the role of medication in treating mental illness.

Camhs are multidisciplinary teams, covering, in theory at least, psychiatry, psychology, occupational and speech and language therapies, social work and nursing, and dealing with young people on the moderate to severe end of mental illness.

ADHD diagnosis "Medication itself is never the answer. It has to be part of a holistic approach provided by a multi

disciplinary team, but it can be a very effective component of the treatment of several psychiatric disorders of childhood," says child psychiatrist Dr Imelda Whyte, who is chair of the faculty of child and adolescent psychiatry at the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland. "The report is welcome, but what you wouldn't want to see happen is that families who are struggling would delay or avoid engaging with Camhs because of that."

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