Why are so many clever, privileged teenage girls on antidepressants? They and their parents describe the drugs as life-savers - but HOW will they ever get off them?

Depression is indeed a serious illness.  It is often fatal.  I myself have some tendency to it if I have relationship difficulties. But I solve it mainly by solving the difficulties and not every one is in a position to do that. It is a quarter of a century since I took any pills for it.

And from the stories below it does seem that relationship difficulties are also the main problem for young British women.  And the particulr relationship difficulty seems to be competitivesness about social success.

But success is the mantra that feminists preach.  They want women to be as successful in their jobs as men are and claim that women can "Have it all".  So as feminism becomes ever more normalized, competion to succeed must be expected to increase.

By contrast the Judeo Christian message is one of humility and gratitude, with the admonition against envy being one of the Ten Commandments. So as Christianity fades and feminism becomes the new faith for women what we see is what was to be expected

A slight comfort is that not everyone seems to be equally prone to depression. Some people are more readily thrown into it than others.  Fortunately, I am one of those whom it takes a lot to depress.

The fact that it is a physical predisposition can be seen in the difficulty usually experienced when one tries to talk the depressed person out of it.  You can point out how lucky they are by world standards or national standards and it does no good at all.  The physical inclination remains.

So it would seem that for some people medication is the only way out.  It did once help me long ago.

The big problem is of course dependance.  The terrible example of that is Jordan Peterson.  When he seemed about to lose to cancer a wife who had been with him since his teens, he turned very heavily to medications to cope.  But he could not get off them and they were  badly hurting him in some ways.  Even when the health challenge to his wife went away he was still stuck and needed very heavy therapy to get back to normal health.  

So the lesson is to use medications as sparingly as possible.  They are not a route to happiness, they just allow life to go on.  And Christianity is a great comfort for those who can believe

Every weekday, Ella Wilson wakes up at 7.30am and opens the Instagram app on her iPhone, checking for 'likes' on her latest selfie, before getting ready for school.

After packing her rucksack, the 16-year-old A-level student heads downstairs and picks at a few strawberries from the fruit salad her mother prepared the night before – and takes her daily capsule of the antidepressant fluoxetine.

On paper, Ella would seem to be the envy of many her age – slim, undeniably attractive and a gifted dancer with hopes of studying drama at university. She comes from a secure, loving family, with professional parents and two siblings with equally rosy prospects.

But following an attempt to end her life last spring, the teenager has been on medication for depression for more than a year.

It came after six months of therapy which, ultimately, failed to halt the intrusive thoughts that plagued her. That she'd never be pretty enough, or popular enough, or clever enough, and was destined for a lonely, miserable life.

'I just wanted all the bad thoughts to stop,' says Ella, who lives with her mother Andrea, 52, father Duncan, 52, sister Sasha, 22, and brother Jack, 20. 

'The pressure of trying to keep up with everyone else never stops. I never feel good enough. I go on to Instagram and see my friends meeting up together and think: why aren't I there too?

'I used to text them and ask what they were doing at the weekend. They'd say nothing, then I'd see pictures of them together online – I just wasn't invited. I see boys commenting on pictures of girls at school, saying how hot they look, so I think I have to look like that too.'

Exams, of course, are a constant pressure.'Girls lie about their marks, because everyone's in competition with each other, and then we get found out and it causes rows,' she says.

One evening in April last year, while her parents were out, she collected up a cocktail of over-the-counter medicines in the house and swallowed them, alone, in her bedroom.

Three hours later she rang her mother in a panic, who called for an ambulance.

Talking about it today, Andrea is understandably still shaken: 'Ella said she hated herself, and I don't know why. There's nothing wrong with her – she's beautiful and wonderful.'

It is, without doubt, a sad story. But, tragically, it's also one that is increasingly common. Almost 190,000 young people aged between ten and 19 are now, like Ella, on antidepressants, according to the latest NHS figures – over a fifth more than four years ago. Girls are twice as likely than boys to be prescribed them.

Ella's older sister – who previously suffered an eating disorder – and several of her friends have taken them, too.

Andrea says: 'They all talk about what pills they're taking with each other, and they have so much of the information at their fingertips. I worry it's almost become normalised.'

Meanwhile, sleeping pill prescriptions for under-18s have increased by a third in two years, while the number of teens being treated for addiction to anti-anxiety medication doubled between 2017 and 2018. Experts raised the alarm, warning that GPs are handing out psychiatric drugs too freely, creating a medicated generation unable to cope with the usual highs and lows of life.

There's also growing awareness in the medical community about the risk of coming off antidepressants, which alter the amount of mood-stabilising hormones in the brain. At the end of last year, health watchdog NICE changed their guidance for antidepressant treatment, warning that withdrawal symptoms – including suicidal thoughts – may be 'severe and protracted' in some patients.

Of course, teenagers have always suffered angst.  So are GPs simply quicker now to reach for the pills, or is there something deeper going on?

A wealth of studies show that deprivation is the leading risk factor for mental illness. Those from poorer families are twice as likely to suffer a lack of support, inadequate education and parental neglect – all factors that contribute towards poor mental health.

And yet teenage girls from privileged backgrounds, with all the odds in their favour, are also more likely to suffer than the norm.

Those with parents on an annual income of more than £100,000 show worryingly high rates of substance use, depression, anxiety and eating disorders, according to a recent study.

So what is it that makes our nation so toxic for our children – and in particular our daughters?

Behind every case of depression – and subsequent antidepressant prescription – is a complex mix of genetic, biological and environmental factors. But as a parenting author who tracks the factors affecting child wellbeing, it seems to me there are several themes that keep cropping up.

For one thing, British children spend more time online than almost any others in the world, according to a survey of more than half a million 15 year-olds from 34 countries, by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a global organisation whose goal is to shape policies that foster prosperity, equality, opportunity and well-being. More than one in three British youngsters are 'extreme' users, who spend at least six hours a day online. Tellingly, the heaviest users are girls – more vulnerable to being sucked into a toxic culture of self-comparison.

For instance, on TikTok – a social media platform on which you'll find short videos of youngsters dancing or doing comic skits – videos of users deemed unattractive or with an 'abnormal body type' are suppressed by the app's moderators, according to documents leaked to online publication, The Intercept. Inevitably, images of slim, attractive people are promoted to the top of users' feeds.

It's just one example among so many of how social media skews young users' perception of what's a normal way to look.

Then there's friendships – key for happiness and self-confidence.

Studies show that British children's social relationships are more tense and fractious than any other nation's – in part due to the amount of time they spend online. Research at the University of Sheffield found interacting mainly online increases the risk of cyberbullying and social comparison, which can lead to jealousy and conflict.

Take 18-year-old Lucy Waite, from Surrey, who wrote her first suicide note aged just 12 – and has attempted to end her life twice.

'Even if my mum tells me I'm fine as I am, deep down I'm thinking, no, fine is not enough,' says Lucy, who lives with parents Gill, 52, a human resources manager and Doug, 53, who works in sales, and younger sister Sophie, 14. 'I've got to be the best, otherwise I've failed.'

Lucy's mood first dipped in the first year of secondary school when she was 12, when classmates began picking on her.

'It was weird, they said they were my friends but they were also picking on me. They'd say mean things about the way I looked, throw things at me, or call me a 'suck up' if I did well on a test,' she says.

'I started to withdraw, spent more time in my bedroom after school and would cry myself to sleep most nights. I'd dread going in from the minute I woke up.'

After a year of spiralling depression, Lucy reached her lowest ebb, and wrote of her disturbingly dark feelings – and the lengths she'd go to, to stop them – in a notepad. 'I didn't have a plan, as such, but I could've acted on impulse in that moment. I just wanted it all to stop,' she says.

Thankfully, Lucy's mother Gill found the note and stepped in, taking Lucy to the GP immediately, before she had a chance to act. The doctor referred Lucy to the local child and adolescent mental health service, and she began therapy. Things improved – to some extent.

'I started to really struggle with my appearance. I was too tall. And I had muscly legs, not like the other girls' in my class who were skinny,' says Lucy.

'And around the same time, Instagram became popular, so I was in this world of insanely pretty girls, talking about how they stayed really skinny by eating healthily.

'I thought I want to be like that and thought the way to do it is to lose a load of weight. So I got down to an unhealthy weight, until my parents noticed and intervened to get me to eat.'

The GP prescribed antidepressants – first, sertraline, followed by amitriptylin, along with sleeping pills.

Intriguingly, Lucy knows other girls her age on medication, but says: 'It's not really something people talk about.'

Gill was 'hesitant' to put her 12 year-old child on antidepressants at first. But having taken the pills herself in the past, she 'at least knew what to look out for, in terms of side effects'.

Lucy believes the medication has been 'a lifesaver'. She says: 'Everyone is different. But for me, it was the right mix. It allowed me to get me through my GCSEs.'

Lucy and Ella are, indeed, the sharp end of the spectrum of mental ill health.

But sadly, suicide among teen girls and young women is rising fast – almost doubling in just seven years, according to Government figures. And without antidepressants, these figures could be far higher.

The general medical consensus is that giving teens antidepressants should be a last resort.

For Ella's mother, Andrea, medication gave her daughter the 'breathing space' she needed to think rationally again.

'I felt like a failure because I couldn't help her do it through lifestyle and exercise. But the truth is, depression is an illness, and these drugs can help.'



  1. May the inward and outward man be as oneNovember 9, 2020 at 3:23 AM

    I have spent a lot of time with depression and it has been quite a rough ride fighting myself. Yes, I have wasted a lot of time being very emotionally centered (self-centered) and it is not over until the fat lady sings. I am hopeful though and have collected important knowledge and information along the way. I am hopeful that we learn as we live and that we eventually will realise the truth.

  2. A few points:

    - Medication is like a walking stick. The walking stick cannot do our walking for us, but it can help us in our effort of walking. So too with medications; they help us help our self.

    - It is not just teenage girls who are prone to insane competition with each other about superficial things. Women are too. A woman at work lost a lot of weight this year and talked a lot to the other women about how fit and healthy she felt, and about her exciting outdoor activities on the weekends. She is a manager with two assistance managers. They both recently left their positions. And they are both fatties, and lovely ladies. A few weeks later they invited me for lunch with them, and they told me they could not stand the senior manager talking to them about how fit and healthy and active she is feeling since she lost weight. That is why they left. Women's world is difficult world for women, and is a difficult world for men to understand.

    - Relationship problems are the commonest and most distressing of problems I come across, for both men and women, and all kinds of relationships... marriage, intimate, family, friendships, workplace, neighbours, social and community. Life is mostly about managing relationships, much more so than money, living standards, and other things.


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