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Charlotte Glennie for The World Today
Posted Tue 15 Sep 2009, 6:35pm AEST
The mother of a Gold Coast schoolboy says she is furious her son has been prescribed the anti-depressant Prozac without her knowledge.
The 16-year-old was given the prescription by a GP at the youth mental health service Headspace.
But that service is defending the doctor’s decision, saying young people using their service have a right to expect confidentiality.
Sue is the mother of the 16-year-old, who was told he was suffering from depression.
“He told me that the careers adviser had … advised him to book an appointment with this place called Headspace because he had been feeling down,” she said.
“The day he did go to the Headspace, he came to me. I said: ‘How did you go?’ He handed me a prescription for Prozac.”
Sue says other options like counselling should have been considered before this one.
“I definitely believe, especially for 16 years old, it definitely is a last resort, not a first contact resort,” she said.
Sue says she is also angry no effort was made to bring her into the discussions as to what was appropriate for her son.
“To me, I don’t think he’s depressed at all. I think he has fallen behind in school, fallen into a hole,” she said.
Sue’s son had seen a GP at Headspace, a Commonwealth-funded youth mental health service.
Headspace’s Gold Coast service is one of the busiest in the country. Its manager, Kate Swanton, says young people use the service because they know it is confidential.
“Unfortunately this age group does not usually access care. We know that in the Gold Coast there’s been a number of really large surveys that have shown lot and lots of young people have got quite serious mental health issues,” Ms Swanton said.
“But before Headspace existed they just weren’t accessing help. That was often because of confidentiality.”
Headspace says it tries to get parents involved in young people’s treatment plans. But the president of the Gold Coast Medical Association, Professor Philip Morris, says it is not obligatory.
“Obviously 18 is the age of consent, but in Queensland and I think in many other states from age 16 upwards, young people can go to a doctor and get a prescription for anti-depressants or any other medication including the oral contraceptive pill, without being forced to notify their parents,” Professor Morris said.
Dr Gretchen Hitchins is a Gold Coast GP who specialises in working with young people with mental health problems.
“Certainly some young people who are – in my experience – being treated for mental health and drug and alcohol problems don’t come from happy homes, and so there isn’t anyone to tell or there isn’t anyone who cares,” Dr Hitchins said.
“However in a young person who does come from a supportive home environment they may well then feel – it may be that they have some concern about the stigma of having a mental health problem and that’s why they don’t want mum and dad to know.
“The young person might think ‘I don’t want to worry mum and dad, mum will get very upset if she knows what’s going on’.
“We have to think of this in the perspective of what’s going on the mind of a 16-year-old.”
But the mother of the 16-year-old boy who was prescribed Prozac says she is worried many other teenagers are being given anti-depressants unnecessarily.
“I’m lucky that I do have a good relationship with my son, but how many other kids are going there and not speaking, not communicating with their parents, and taking a drug that just makes them numb,” she said.