Management of anxiety disorders among children and adolescents in UK primary care: A cohort study

Lukasz Cybulski, Darren M. Ashcroft, Matthew J. Carr, Shruti Garg, Carolyn A. Chew-graham, Nav Kapur, Roger T. Webb

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Anxiety disorders are common in childhood and adolescence but evidence-based guidance on their management is limited in the UK. In the absence of guidelines, we examined what treatment young people with anxiety disorders receive in primary care in the year following diagnosis.

We delineated a cohort of individuals diagnosed with anxiety disorders aged 10–18 using the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD). We estimated the annual prevalence of antidepressant and anxiolytic prescribing and referrals to mental health services in the year following diagnosis between 2003 and 2019 via Poisson models, adjusted for age, gender, and practice-level deprivation.

34,490 out of 52,358 (66 %) individuals were not prescribed or referred in the year following diagnosis. Those registered to practices in the most deprived compared to the least deprived areas were less likely to be referred (PR 0.80, 95%CI 0.76–0.84) and prescribed antidepressants (PR 0.77, 95%CI 0.72–0.82). Referrals increased 2003–2008 (22–28 %) and then declined until 2019 (28–21 %). Antidepressant prescribing decreased substantially between 2003 and 2005 (18–11 %) and then increased slightly between 2006 and 2019 (11–13 %). Anxiolytic prescribing declined between 2003 and 2019 (10–2 %).

Prescriptions in the CPRD are not coupled with information about indication. Some prescriptions may therefore have been incorrectly attributed to the treatment of anxiety disorders.

The continued use of antidepressants necessitates the development of evidence-based guidance. The lower likelihood of being prescribed medication and/or referred among young people in more deprived practice populations, where incidence of anxiety disorder and other mental illnesses is higher, must also be investigated and rectified.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)270-277
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date5 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2022


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