Should I Put My Teenager on Antidepressants?
The staff at Honey Lake Clinic has discovered that every decision you make concerning your child’s mental and emotional well-being is important.
As a parent whose teenager battles depression, you face the excruciatingly difficult question:
Should I put my teenager on antidepressants?
With children and teens, the decision to start using medication can be especially challenging because their young brains are still developing.
And while antidepressant medications are generally safe, they can have unpleasant side effects.
On the other hand, severe depression or anxiety left untreated can hinder a teenager’s development, and in some cases may become life-threatening.
It is very important to weigh the pros and cons of medication.
Teen depression is a serious mental health condition that causes persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities. It affects how a teen thinks and behaves and can negatively impact their schooling, family, and social functioning.
For many teenagers, antidepressants combined with psychotherapy are an effective way to treat depression. Antidepressants can help a teen:
- Improve his or her mood
- Improve appetite
- Increase focus
- Resolve sleep disturbance associated with depression
- Decrease anxious symptoms that can occur with depression
- Decrease depressive symptoms that can trigger suicidal thoughts
All medications have side effects.
Some result in minor side effects that are annoying but manageable, while others can result in serious side effects.
It’s important to discuss all potential side effects prior to beginning treatment with an antidepressant, and keep a close eye on your teen, including regular appointments with the prescribing doctor.
SSRIs, the most commonly prescribed antidepressants, can have the following side effects:
- Gastrointestinal symptoms
- Insomnia or sedation
- Dry mouth
- Weight gain
- Sexual side effects
Common Antidepressant Medications
There are several different categories of antidepressant medications available.
Each works to change the way the brain processes the neurotransmitters that affect moods and emotions.
Serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are a few of the brain chemicals that regulate our emotions and energy levels.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): When taken as directed and under close medical supervision, SSRIs can help teens manage symptoms of depression with very few side effects. SSRIs elevate mood by raising serotonin.
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): These were some of the first antidepressants developed. MAOIs increase serotonin by blocking the enzyme that breaks it down. MAOIs are not prescribed as frequently because they can have serious side effects and drug or food interactions.
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): These antidepressants are not commonly prescribed for teens or younger patients due to side effects unless the patient is unresponsive to SSRIs.
- Atypical antidepressants: These antidepressants (including Wellbutrin, Cymbalta, and Effexor) have fewer side effects and are generally better tolerated by younger patients.
Medications are Not a Quick Fix for Depression
What the staff at Honey Lake Clinic has discovered is that it’s important to realize that antidepressants are not a quick fix for depression, and can take several weeks to relieve symptoms.
Antidepressants work best in combination with psychotherapy (including process-oriented therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy).
During psychotherapy, teens can learn coping skills to manage depression and deal with psychosocial stressors.
They can also explore triggers of depression and learn how to mitigate those triggers in the future.
Where to Start?
Treatment for mental health conditions should be sought out in the same manner as any other ailment.
Once you’ve acknowledged this, then you’ll want to look closely at your teenager’s depression symptoms.
Signs to look for indicating your child could benefit from medication include:
- dysfunctional behavior
- challenges in relationships
- difficulty taking care of basic needs
- difficulty attending school or keeping grades up
- other functionality issues
Looking at your teens symptoms yourself is only a first step.
You will need to speak to a doctor, psychologist or psychiatric specialist. A mental health professional can meet with your child, review their symptoms, and help determine a recommended course of treatment. Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications are prescribed only after careful assessment.
If your teen goes on medication for his or her depression, the prescribing doctor should monitor your child’s progress and the medication’s side-effects carefully.
Typically, doctors start patients off with the lowest dose and modify dosage according to the patient’s response to treatment.
Antidepressants and Teens
In some cases, the use of antidepressants has been linked to an increase in suicidal thoughts and behavior in children, teens, and young adults.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires antidepressants to carry a warning about the risk of suicide in children, teens, and young adults 24 years of age or younger.
This doesn’t mean that people in this age group shouldn’t take antidepressants.
It does means they should be carefully monitored by their doctor and loved ones while taking the antidepressant.
If you are worried your child may be suicidal, call your doctor right away or take your child to the nearest emergency room.
Research shows the strongest risk factors for depression in adolescence are a family history of depression and exposure to psychosocial stress. Other factors to consider include developmental factors, hormonal changes, and psychosocial adversity.
Your Teen & His or Her Needs
Every teenager is different.
Each case is unique.
One teen might experience significant benefits and few side effects, while another might experience little relief of depressive symptoms and many side effects.
A team approach to treating depression (with or without medication) is the safest for teens.
There is no shame in seeking care for depression and anxiety, and sometimes medication is a helpful part of the treatment regimen.
What you can do as a parent is stand by your teenager. Help them find the right course of treatment—one which will lead to a better quality of life.