OPINION: What on earth has a five-year-old got to feel depressed about?
That was our initial reaction to stunning revelations that children as young as five are receiving counselling, and in some cases drugs, to combat the apparent early onset of mental health issues.
The Fairfax Media story published last week also revealed that 3240 New Zealand children between the ages of 10 and 19 were given anti-psychotic medication last year, a spike of close to 50 per cent over the previous four years.
Many of our readers would have been similarly horrified that such young children would be prescribed mood- stabilising drugs, let alone have the mental problems to require such seemingly radical intervention.
But a little research reveals this is not the only country in which its youngest members need the support of drugs to lighten the mood.
The United States has also experienced a sharp increase in the use of anti- psychotic drugs for children.
One study revealed that one in five children visiting a psychiatrist was prescribed mood-stabilising medicine.
Not surprising for a nation where over- medication appears to be the default position and its victims include celebrities such as Heath Ledger, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson.
But another study highlighted a factor of even greater concern. It noted that while prescriptions were on the increase, "literature on effects on children is poor".
It went on to say that "studies are few, methodology is flawed, limiting the conclusions to be drawn". And that younger patients were less able to "articulate symptoms", which meant there was "more scope for confusion and diagnosis".
A major concern when the medical professional is contemplating administering heavy-duty drugs for impressionable minds.
That dearth of quality research to support the medical profession's largesse was highlighted in another online report, which said the "impact of depression and its treatment on the brain in adolescents is understudied".
That is not to say that such treatments are automatically bad or not warranted. This country has a sad and shocking record when it comes to youth suicide, which indicates that mental illness can become evident well before the person is introduced to the daily grind and vicious cycle that adulthood can represent.
But what is clear is a lack of certainty around how young minds can be affected by an early introduction to anti-psychotic and mood-stabilising drugs. And a growing tendency for over-anxious parents and care-givers to over-dramatise and over- correct their child's possibly aberrant behaviour.
It is worth noting that in America, the sharpest rises in mental health drug use has been in its white communities.
Presumably, for ethnic groups, medication for their youth is either culturally unacceptable or simply too expensive.
And no doubt they will be the richer for that.
- © Fairfax NZ News