Thousands of antidepressants are being prescribed for children as young as five on the NHS with the number growing each year, official figures show.
The data for England, provided in a parliamentary written answer by health minister Lord Bethell, reveals an increase in drugs being issued to under-18s, from 329,954 in 2016 to 379,134 in 2019.
In the first 11 months of last year, 358,835 antidepressant items were dispensed in the community to youngsters, indicating a continued year-on-year upswing.
Thousands of antidepressants are being prescribed for children as young as five on the NHS with the number growing each year, official figures show
The true figure is likely to be higher as it does not include medication prescribed in secondary care by hospitals and specialist services.
The total bill for these prescription items dispensed over a five-year period to this group alone topped £9 million.
A breakdown of the data also shows an annual rise in the number of antidepressants issued to children aged five to 11, growing from 12,988 in 2016 to 14,529 in 2019.
In the period to November last year 14,187 prescription items were dispensed to patients in this age group, again signalling continued growth.
A separate parliamentary answer also revealed the overall number of antidepressants dispensed in the community has soared by more than 50% over the last decade at a total cost of £2.5 billion.
The data for England, provided in a parliamentary written answer by health minister Lord Bethell, reveals an increase in drugs being issued by doctors to under-18s, from 329,954 in 2016 to 379,134 in 2019
Data shows prescription items dispensed in the community had risen from 46,677,813 in 2011 to 74,814,619 in 2019, not including secondary care.
Over the first 11 months of last year, the number of antidepressants issued in England stood at 71,801,824, suggesting a further annual rise.
The figures were obtained in response to written questions submitted by independent crossbencher Lord Alton of Liverpool.
The peer and former MP said: 'This is the drugs problem we talk too little about.
'The vast numbers - now around 70 million prescriptions for antidepressants every year - and the escalating phenomenal cost to the NHS tell their own story.
'The UK is awash with antidepressant drugs costing a staggering £2.5 billion over the past 10 years - including thousands prescribed to children aged five to 11.
'With a further rise in the number of prescriptions the Government needs to say how many of these prescriptions are new and how many are repeat prescriptions, and it needs to give much greater thought as to why so many people have become dependent on antidepressants.
'If the overuse of antibiotics is creating cause for concern - and rightly so - should we not also be exercised by the overuse of antidepressants and our failure to address toxic loneliness, unhappiness, depression and isolation?
'Too often we put a poultice on a problem rather than attacking the root causes.'