Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Social construction of childhood depression

Sami Timimi, in his chapter "Starting young: Children cultured into becoming psycho-pharmaceutical consumers - The example of childood depression" in The sedated society (2017), describes how SSRI antidepressant prescribing for young people has increased, apart from a hiatus around 2004 because of concerns at the time about lack of efficacy and increased suicidality. Despite these concerns, prescribing has continued to increase by arguing in a biased way that the benefits of antidepressants outweigh the risks.

As Sami says:-
It was only relatively recently (in the late 1980s) that our understanding of childhood depression began a far-reaching transformation. Prior to this childhood depression was viewed as a very rare disorder, different to adult depression and not amenable to treatment with antidepressants ...  A shift in theory and consequently practice then took place as influential academics claimed that childhood depression was more common than previously thought (quoting figures such as 8–20% of children and adolescents), resembled adult depression, and was amenable to treatment with antidepressants.

Sami tries to relate this construction of childhood depression to child-rearing practices. I tend to prefer the simpler explanation that it reflects our belief in the chemical cure. I suppose the view in which I was schooled that childhood depression is uncommon and different to adult depression was also socially constructed (see previous post). However, as I said in my BMJ letter, I don't want to get too hung up about whether childhood depression exists. The problem is when it is seen as a biological entity for which antidepressants are indicated.

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