Kids with anxiety more likely to be prescribed drugs than therapy

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Kids and teens are more likely to be prescribed medication than to go to therapy, a new study has found.

The study, published in Pediatrics on Wednesday, showed that although the number of kids with anxiety disorders has risen since 2006, the number of children receiving counseling has decreased.

Researchers used data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey from 2006 to 2018 and looked at office visits for patients aged between 4 and 24.

The study found anxiety disorders diagnosed in office settings tripled during the data collection period. Rates rose from 1.4% during 2006-2009 to 4.2% during 2014-2018, but therapy decreased. Medication prescriptions, however, remained the same.

“This really shows that the burden of treating mental health conditions among patients is growing,” Laura Chavez, the study author and senior research scientist at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told NBC.

“Even when they’re able to navigate the health care system and visit with a physician in an office setting, they may not receive the treatment that they need.”

Young girl clutching at mom's arm wearing backpack.
Researchers found anxiety disorder diagnoses tripled.
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Chavez and her team analyzed data from 46.4 million office visits between 2006 to 2018, breaking it into three periods of time: 2006 to 2009, 2010 to 2013 and 2014 to 2018.

Researchers looked at anxiety disorder diagnoses and treatments falling into different categories — attending therapy, receiving therapy and medications, getting medications alone and receiving neither — that were reported occurring in those times.

They found doctors’ visits for anxiety treatments that included therapy went from 48.8% during the first study period to 32.6% during the last, but the rate at which anxiety medications were prescribed stayed about the same, with 61.8% being given a medicinal treatment in the last period.

Sad kid on office chair with adult woman.
The rate at which kids are being prescribed medications for anxiety disorders has stayed the same, but therapy has decreased.
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“The reduction in therapy during office visits and the greater reliance on medications for anxiety disorders may reflect growing resource constraints in office settings in the context of a child and youth mental health crisis that has been building over time,” the authors wrote.

“Further research is needed to investigate how reliance on medications has evolved during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.”

In the US, around 5.8 million children had a diagnosed anxiety disorder in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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