Information about Antidepressant Medications: What Parents and Concerned Adults Should Know
By John Sommers-Flanagan, Ph.D.
Why You Shouldn’t Have Your Sad, Cranky, or Depressed Child Take Antidepressant Meds?
Several million American children and teenagers take antidepressant meds. This use of antidepressants is unjustified. Here’s why:
1. Commonly used antidepressants (like Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, Cymbalta, etc.) don’t have much scientific support. Much of the research shows that antidepressants are no more effective than a sugar pill for reducing depressive symptoms.
2. Antidepressants have side effects that include hyperactivity, insomnia, stomach pain, agitation, and increased suicide potential.
3 Sexual side effects are of special concern. For example, most antidepressants delay orgasm and can be used to effectively treat premature ejaculation in males; they also may inhibit orgasm in females. No one knows how these side effects influence sexual development
4. Several years ago the FDA released a Public Health Advisory warning about increased reports of suicidality in youth who had been treated with antidepressants.
5. Even psychiatric journals acknowledge that non-drug approaches to treating child and adolescent depression should be used before trying medication treatment.
6. Generally, adding antidepressant medications to non-drug treatments are no more effective than the non-drug treatments by themselves.
7. As we all know, life is hard and we all have to face challenging situations—situations that can make us feel sad, angry, and guilty. The problem is that antidepressants don’t teach young people anything about handling difficult emotions and coping with life. As our behavior therapy friends like to say, remember, “a pill is not a skill.”
Why You Should Consider Putting Your Child on Antidepressant Medications?
Here are some reasons you might ask a doctor to prescribe antidepressants to your child.
1. When other, less risky approaches to dealing with depression, such as exercise, a healthier diet, more time listening and caring about the huge stresses of the teen years, and family assistance coping with life’s joys and disappointments have not provided relief.
2. When counseling or psychotherapy with a credentialed professional who has a positive reputation working with youth has been tried for at least 10 sessions with no improvement. Studies have shown that counseling or psychotherapy is effective in treating depressed youth and the effects may be maintained after the treatment has ended (in contrast to medications, which often must be continued indefinitely).
3. Your child is actively suicidal and other options haven’t helped. As strange as it may sound, although newer antidepressants appear to increase suicide risk among non-suicidal youth, they can sometimes reduce suicide risk in youth who are already suicidal.
4. You, or another parent, have a strong history of depression and that depression was dramatically relieved by an antidepressant drug; if so, it may be reasonable, if your child becomes severely depressed, to begin the same medication. Of course, the medication should be closely monitored and you should make sure you’re not confusing your personal struggles with depression with your child’s unique condition.
5. For personal reasons, it may be your preference and your child’s preference to try medications. If so, you should proceed with caution and work with a physician with a positive reputation.
This information is provided, in part, to balance most of the promotional advertising generated by pharmaceutical companies. It’s very important for consumers to have access to balanced information. Of course, much more information is available on the internet, but I recommend that you do your best to find balanced informational sources. Pharmaceutical companies tend to overstate antidepressant effectiveness and other organizations may demonize antidepressants. The truth is that antidepressant medications help some young people, but they’re not generally very effective, and they produce disturbing side effects. Choosing whether to have your children or teens take antidepressants is a very difficult decision. This handout is designed to provide you a small amount of information that may be helpful to you as you face this challenging decision.