Seasonal trends in antidepressant prescribing, depression, anxiety and self-harm in adolescents and young adults: an open cohort study using English primary care data
Ruth H Jack, Rebecca M Joseph, Chris Hollis, Julia Hippisley-Cox, Debbie Butler, Dave Waldram, Carol Coupland
Abstract Background There is an increasing demand for mental health services for young people, which may vary across the year. Objective To determine whether there are seasonal patterns in primary care antidepressant prescribing and mental health issues in adolescents and young adults. Methods This cohort study used anonymised electronic health records from general practices in England contributing to QResearch. It included 5 081 263 males and females aged 14–18 (adolescents), 19–23 and 24–28 years between 2006 and 2019. The incidence rates per 1000 person-years and the incidence rate ratios (IRRs) were calculated for the first records of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) prescription, depression, anxiety and self-harm. The IRRs were adjusted for year, region, deprivation, ethnic group and number of working days. Findings There was an increase in SSRI prescribing, depression and anxiety incidence in male and female adolescents in the autumn months (September–November) that was not seen in older age groups. The IRRs for SSRI prescribing for adolescents peaked in November (females: 1.75, 95% CI 1.67 to 1.83, p<0.001; males: 1.72, 95% CI 1.61 to 1.84, p<0.001, vs in January) and for depression (females: 1.29, 95% CI 1.25 to 1.33, p<0.001; males: 1.29, 95% CI 1.23 to 1.35, p<0.001). Anxiety peaked in November for females aged 14–18 years (1.17, 95% CI 1.13 to 1.22, p<0.001) and in September for males (1.19, 95% CI 1.12 to 1.27, p<0.001). Conclusions There were higher rates of antidepressant prescribing and consultations for depression and anxiety at the start of the school year among adolescents. Clinical implications Support around mental health issues from general practitioners and others should be focused during autumn.