Teens and Antidepressants: A Bad Mix or a Miracle?

Depression in teens has risen dramatically in the last forty years, and it’s not any wonder when we consider that even when parents stay married they often both work away from home, and are not always as available to their teens as they might like to be. Take that along with the higher divorce rate, the reality of single parenthood, peer pressure, and other issues of fitting in and it’s not surprising some of our teens are having mental health issues. In addition the use of antidepressants in children and teens has risen sharply by 49% between the years of 1998-2002 according to one study. But are drugs the solution? Are teens and antidepressants a bad thing to mix? Is medicating our teens with antidepressants really safe or does it in fact at least in some cases, actually make the problem worse, possibly even leading to suicidal thoughts or actual suicide?

The Lancet Study

The Lancet Study performed in Great Britain in 2004, and which included unpublished data held by pharmaceutical companies about teens and antidepressants, and which was by and large negative, found that children between the ages of 5 and 18 should not take certain brands of antidepressants because there was a high risk of suicidal behavior, and no clear benefit. These drugs included Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor, and Celexa. This same study found that Prozac was safe for this age group, and was effective in treating teen depression without the suicidal behavior and thoughts as a side effect.

A Case Control Study

Another study performed by Mark Olfson MD, MPH at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University Medical Center, and New York State Psychiatric Institute found when he and colleagues studied the records of 5, 469 Medicaid patients, which included teens and children who were severely depressed, that the children between the ages of 6-18 were 1.5 times more likely to attempt suicide and to complete it if they had been on antidepressants. The doctors did say that it’s possible since only the most ill children and teens would have been treated with medication that this might have skewed their results somewhat with regards to children, teens and antidepressants.

The interesting part of these studies is that both say that the same results do not happen when the study is performed relating to adults. It is thought by the medical establishment that part of the reason for this is that teen’s brains are not fully developed yet. The old data suggested that the brain was fully developed by age 12, but now with the advent of better brain scanners it has become obvious that the brain continues to develop until the age of 25. So, it’s possible that as teen’s brains mature their depression may become a thing of the past.

So, based on these studies what is a parent to do? Even the FDA is concerned and has made it mandatory for prescriptions of antidepressants which are filled for minors to have a warning label about the possibility of suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide as a side effect. Their own study mirrored the same results as the Lancet Study and the Case Control Study done by Dr. Olfson and his colleagues when applied to children, teens and antidepressants.

There is a ray of hope though in all this, and it is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and has been shown to be just as effective for depressed teens, at least in some cases, as mixing teens and antidepressants. Most teens reap positive results when attending therapy sessions as long as they understand that the therapy is for them, and not their parents.

So, for the time being at least it appears that teens and antidepressants are not a good mix, and that in a case where your teen is depressed it is better to seek out a good therapist well versed in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy than to have them take an antidepressant.

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