Educational and health outcomes of children and adolescents receiving antidepressant medication: Scotland-wide retrospective record linkage cohort study of 766 237 schoolchildren

Michael Fleming* (Corresponding Author), Catherine A Fitton, Markus F C Steiner, James S McLay, David Clark, Albert King, Daniel F Mackay, Jill P Pell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


BACKGROUND: Childhood depression is relatively common, under-researched and can impact social and cognitive function and self-esteem.

METHODS: Record linkage of routinely collected Scotland-wide administrative databases covering prescriptions [prescribing information system (PIS)], hospitalizations (Scottish Morbidity Records 01 and 04), maternity records (Scottish Morbidity Records 02), deaths (National Records of Scotland), annual pupil census, school absences/exclusions, special educational needs (Scottish Exchange of Educational Data; ScotXed), examinations (Scottish Qualifications Authority) and (un)employment (ScotXed) provided data on 766 237 children attending Scottish schools between 2009 and 2013 inclusively. We compared educational and health outcomes of children receiving antidepressant medication with their peers, adjusting for confounders (socio-demographic, maternity and comorbidity) and explored effect modifiers and mediators.

RESULTS: Compared with peers, children receiving antidepressants were more likely to be absent [adjusted incidence rate ratio (IRR) 1.90, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.85-1.95] or excluded (adjusted IRR 1.48, 95% CI 1.29-1.69) from school, have special educational needs [adjusted odds ratio (OR) 1.77, 95% CI 1.65-1.90], have the lowest level of academic attainment (adjusted OR 3.00, 95% CI 2.51-3.58) and be unemployed after leaving school (adjusted OR 1.88, 95% CI 1.71-2.08). They had increased hospitalization [adjusted hazard ratio (HR) 2.07, 95% CI 1.98-2.18] and mortality (adjusted HR 2.73, 95% CI 1.73-4.29) over 5 years' follow-up. Higher absenteeism partially explained poorer attainment and unemployment. Treatment with antidepressants was less common among boys than girls (0.5% vs 1.0%) but the associations with special educational need and unemployment were stronger in boys.

CONCLUSIONS: Children receiving antidepressants fare worse than their peers across a wide range of education and health outcomes. Interventions to reduce absenteeism or mitigate its effects should be investigated.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberdyaa002
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Epidemiology
Early online date19 Feb 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Feb 2020



  • Depression
  • educational outcomes
  • health
  • population cohort
  • record linkage
  • prescribing

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