Vatican gathering to address antidepressant use by children

By Estefania Aguirre

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Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, presents at the Vatican press office in Nov. 2012. Credit: Marta Jiménez Ibáñez/EWTN News.

A conference held at the Vatican on June 14 and 15 will examine the growing misuse of antidepressants being given to children worldwide.

Experts will examine the harmful effects of using prescription drugs rather than therapy to treat emotional disorders and mental illnesses in children after prescriptions for psychiatric drugs have increased by 274 percent globally in just a decade.

Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Vatican council organizing the conference, stressed during a June 6 interview with EWTN News that it “is important that people follow the conference and also get the proceedings.”

“This will help to explore the field in order to see how best the ethical imperative of doing no harm and seeking (the) maximum good of the patient could be promoted in favor of these children,” he stated.

The gathering will take place in Rome’s St. Pius X Hall and will feature several psychiatrists and psychologists, a social worker, a family therapist and an investigative journalist.

“Pharmaceutical industries spend millions and millions of dollars on misinformation and we want to counteract that with this conference,” psychologist Barry Duncan told EWTN News May 31.

According to Duncan, misinformed physicians are now frequently recommending children take medications from two groups of drugs, either Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, better known as SSRIs, or anti-psychotics.

“SSRIs double the risk of suicide for children while anti-psychotics cause cardiovascular problems, obesity and diabetes,” said Duncan.

The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers organized the conference named, “The child as a person and as a patient: therapeutic approaches compared.”

“As Benedict XVI emphasized, the treatment of the sick child is a topic that cannot fail to raise attentive interest of all those who are dedicated to health pastoral care,” Archbishop Zimowski stressed to EWTN News.

“Now, bringing together health care workers to discuss a pressing health issue, get them to look at scientific evidence, share experience in care and pastoral action so as to respond more effectively to people’s needs is part and parcel of this duty,” he said.

The archbishop said that the gathering “seeks to spur the Church and society as a whole to place the health of children amongst their priorities, at the center of their attention and action.”

The event will also highlight the increase in antidepressants being prescribed to pregnant women, which appears to be causing more children to be born with defects.

“Children are more vulnerable than adults, and they need special attention and care,” Archbishop Zimowski cautioned. “They too suffer from emotional and mental disorders.”

He believes that there are not enough appropriate structures and personnel to take care of children with emotional and mental disorders in many countries.

This is the third annual conference the Council for Health Care Workers has held with the help of the Good Samaritan Foundation.

“We try to emphasize the centrality of the person, who should be at the center of our attention and action,” Archbishop Zimowski explained.

The participants will also take part in a Mass that Pope Francis will be celebrating to commemorate “Evangelium Vitae” on June 16 in St. Peter’s Square.

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