Is It Safe To Give Kids Anti-Depressants?

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Should Kids Who Are Depressed Or Anxious Take Medication?

BY DR SARAH HUGHES

There’s been so much written about the dangers of over-medicating kids and teens. It’s a valid argument (especially where ADHD is concerned) – but have we gone too far? Have we slammed medication to the point that we’re writing it off and refusing it even though it’s needed?

Would you support your child taking antidepressants?

Would you support your child taking antidepressants?

Just to be clear, I am not advocating for medication to be the first line of treatment for kids with anxiety and depression. If a child or adolescent is depressed or anxious there are a number of practical skills and strategies they can learn to overcome their symptoms. Even if medication is used, it should be an adjunct treatment and used in combination with cognitive behavioural therapy – an evidence-based treatment proven to be effective for treating anxiety and depression.

While the types of medications used to treat anxiety and depression in kids and teens aren’t addictive, if medication is used in isolation kids and teens will attribute any mood improvements to the medication and this can lead to worry about relapse when the time comes for them to stop taking their meds. If kids and teens have learnt to manage their symptoms in other ways, they’re generally more confident that they can cope without medication.

We also need to be careful that medication isn’t being used as a badge of honor. Somewhere along the way mental health issues have become trendy to teens. It’s ‘cool’ to be under the care of a posse of mental health practitioners and medication is often a way for teens to communicate to their peers just how serious their mental health issues are. If teens are seeking out medication for this reason, then a prescription may inadvertently reinforce an unhealthy attachment to mental health issues.

So medication shouldn’t generally be considered as a first course of treatment for kids and teens…

BUT – all that to be said, sometimes medication is helpful and necessary.

Sometimes a child’s symptoms are so severe that it affects their ability to learn and practice the skills we teach in session and persevering regardless can increase a child’s sense of hopelessness. They’ll start to feel that things will never get better and this will only make their mood worse. As their mood worsens they’ll find it even harder to implement practical skills and strategies and so the downward spiral continues.

Sometimes you need a circuit breaker and sometimes that circuit breaker is medication.

It won’t be a “quick fix” and it should always be only an adjunct treatment, not the primary treatment, but be open to considering it as an option if it’s advised.

Dr. Sarah Hughes is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Think Clinical Psychologists. She enjoys working with children, adolescents, and adults, and specialises in anxiety, depression, postnatal depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and challenging behaviour.


 

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