Should We Give Anti-Depressants to Adolescents and Teens?

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Geek!This is Sistaaaa’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. I am speaking mainly about the near instant reaction from parents, therapists, and doctors to suggest prescription medication in cases of teenage depression and anxiety.

  1. The still-developing brains of young people. What exactly is accomplished by giving mind-altering medication to a child whose brain is still forming? Even if, as a responsible adult, we choose to partake in some drinking of alcohol or experimentation with controlled or illegal substances, I seriously doubt we would readily suggest these options as viable for a young person whose brain is not even fully developed. Would we change our opinions if it was prescribed by a doctor? Maybe given the facts, this wouldn’t be such a bad idea in comparison. Then there is the impression they may be getting that something is wrong with them that can be fixed by taking a pill. These medications can be habit-forming just as the aforementioned substances that adults use. All this is happening while they are still growing and changing every day. Are they then predisposed to become addicted to substances later on in life?
  2. Long Term Research. How long do we spend on testing these prescription drugs? Is the majority of the testing on animals? What kind? Why? How long are we tracking the results of the human testing? How long has the FDA spent testing the massive amounts of anti-depressants and other like drugs that are available to the general public? As far as ‘safety’, maybe long enough to get approval, but what about years down the road? What are the results? Specifically, what are the results of adults in their ‘prime’ (40’s 50’s and beyond) who started taking these drugs in their pre or early teens? There is already a list of anti-depressants that are not recommended for kids under 18. Why? Too many suicides? How many more drugs will be on this list in the years to come? At what cost? Are we offering our kids up as guinea pigs? A lot of questions, I know, but are parents asking these questions and/or doing the research for their kids? Is the research available to parents truthful, or is the information itself provided by the drug companies or others who are padding their pockets with the massive amounts of money made by handing these drugs out to so many youths? How many people should we test and how long should we monitor their results before we feel safe feeding them to our children? What trusted resources are available for the parents who are willing to do their homework? Just food for thought? Perhaps…
  3. This alludes to the time spent ruling out different types of medication before finding the ‘right’ one. It takes an average of about 6 weeks (sometimes longer of course) to decide if an antidepressant is going to be a match for a particular individual. Six weeks may not seem like a long time, but to an adolescent, I think anyone can remember, it can seem like an eternity. It usually takes more than one try (even several) to find the one that works. So, during the trial period what happens exactly? Well, obviously it’s bad enough that it leads to stopping the use of that drug and trying another one. I’m sure it’s easy to see that this can go on for quite some time. If you stop and think of this in terms of a preteen/teen individual, you can imagine that they are busy ruling out these things while simultaneously experiencing the regular peer pressures at school, school itself, homework etc., their first boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, maybe strife at home, issues like body image, body changes, hormones, several seasons in sports or other extracurricular activities, and of course, just the act of developing one’s personality and identity. No big deal right?
  4. Side effects. We have all seen at least some of the barrage of advertisements boasting the different prescriptions drugs, and at the end of the ad, we hear the laundry list of side-effects. Now imagine a teenager who is already experiencing the uncomfortable and even frightening business of a changing body, hormones, insecurities etc. Give them trial drug #1 and add on diarrhea, irritability, thoughts of suicide, extreme fatigue, or excitability. You get the idea. Those side effects alone are enough to make someone depressed. This is the time in their lives when they are forming the person they are to become. This will be a huge part of that experience.

What if it’s as simple as…

How about in cases where the adults aren’t sure of what is needed or how to proceed to help the child. Because that’s really the bottom line; what we all want…right? They spend six weeks a pop ruling out other options:

  • finding ways to change their diet to suit their nutritional needs
  • finding an exercise program that is right for them
  • improving sleep amounts and patterns
  • cutting down or increasing extra curricular activities
  • and of course, counseling

The possibilities are numerous and potentially less harmful than prescription medication. Time well spent one might argue.

One more thought that may fit into category #5 or it may not. I see a lot of parents who put their kids on medications because it makes the parents’ lives easier if their child is ‘inside the box’ so to speak. How would our world be different if Albert Einstein had been put on anti-anxiety, anti-depressants, and sleep meds as an adolescent? There are so many examples like that as well. What if those ‘mad-geniuses’ in history had been medicated because they just wouldn’t fit the mold?

I realize this subject is a giant can of worms, but to me, that is the point. I am not claiming to be armed with all of the hard facts and statistics and I am not claiming to be right. I know that there are many adolescents/teens on antidepressants and other prescriptions medications and it is absolutely the right thing for them. I am simply talking about being more careful, thorough, and cautious when ruling out the ones for which there is a better or safer alternative. I welcome comments from those who have experience with this issue, those who know more than me, those who agree with me and have more to add, and especially those who disagree.