(c) Mad in America
On BBC Reporting Scotland after 6.30pm, last night, we heard:
‘The number of young people in Scotland on anti-depressants has increased by 10% over the last three years. There were similar increases in England and Northern Ireland.’
The increase in England was 15% or 50% higher than that in Scotland. The choice to report the increases over three years was arbitrary and designed to maximise and dramatize the headline figure.
We then heard:
‘The figures show a small rise for under-18’s from 5564 to 5 572.’
This increase of 8 from well over 5 thousand represents an increase of 0.14%, is statistically insignificant, much smaller than ‘small’ and consequently not worthy of reporting or should have been reported as ‘not significantly different’. Further, some context is clearly needed if we are to fully understand the statistics. Most obvious, how many under 18’s are there in Scotland. Official statistics only tell us how many under-15’s there are – 920 000 in 2017, but even this figure would suggest that fewer than 0.6%, fewer than 1 in a hundred, are taking anti-depressants.
Then, and of greater importance here, we heard:
‘In under-12’s, prescribed anti-depressant figures were up from 221 to 252. That’s a 26% rise over 3 years.’
These very small figures by contrast with those for the under-18’s, require, even more, context. How many under-12’s are there in Scotland? Once more, official statistics do not tell us this specifically but, in 2001, there were 670 00 pupils, excluding pre-school, in primary schools.
Even if we take this very conservative figure, 252 represents only 0.037% or fewer than one in every 2 600. So, does this tell us that we have a significant problem or is it to be expected given contemporary practice?
In England, in 2016, 3 876 children aged 7 to 12 and 315 aged 6 or younger were given anti-depressants. That gives a total of 4 191.
So, England has roughly 10 times the population and at least ten times the number of under-12’s (the birth rate is higher) and yet seems to have approaching twice the level of anti-depressant prescription for under-12s.
See this for anti-depressant prescription in the USA in 2017:
0-5 Years 38,534
0-1 Years 6,687
2-3 Years 10,957
4-5 Years 21,299
6-12 Years 574,090
The USA has 59 times the population of Scotland and at least (the birth rate is higher) 59 times the number of under-12’s and yet has more than 2 000 times the level of anti-depressant prescription for under-12’s.
So, Reporting Scotland, have you produced what is effectively a scare story based on incomplete and out-of-context statistics?
Readers, is this another in a long sequence of such reporting on Scotland’s health and health system and, if so, why?