SYDNEY, May 14 - Antipsychotic medications are typically used to treat mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar, and can also be used to treat behavioural issues associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Concerned that children from disadvantaged families are more likely to be prescribed the powerful drugs, social policy researcher Amy Kaim from the Robinson Research Institute at the University of Adelaide analysed data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) and then cross-matched it with information from Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The analysis found a larger proportion of children and teens taking antipsychotic medication were boys, in lower-income families, with an unemployed primary caregiver, who were living in single-parent households.

"Their parents were more likely to report that their child had behavioural difficulties and they were more likely to have repeated a grade in school and to have lower school achievement," she said.

Kaim says the findings highlight the need to look at social factors that influence a teen's mental health before "resorting to antipsychotics for the treatment of behavioural problems".

The study will be presented at the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) Annual Congress in Auckland this week.