Moms Talk: Do Children Need Antidepressants?
In this week’s Moms Talk, we cover kids on depression and anxiety medications, and the difficult choices for parents.
My dear friend had to make the decision recently to put her child on antidepression medication. It was a tough decision. Really tough.
She’s read all about the side effects, and in addition to being terrified by them she worries that she’s creating more problems for her child in the future. Will he be dependent on these pills for the rest of his life? Will they mask his true feelings? When he stops taking the pills will things be way worse than before?
It’s an agonizing choice for a parent to make. And it’s a choice that should never be made casually. At the height of such prescriptions given to children, the Federal Drug Administration estimates that 11 million were written for children in the United States.
We’re reading more and more about hopeless, depressed children taking their own lives. The stories are alarming, and it’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction and put a sad kid on medication in a desperate bid to avoid ending up as another tragic story. However, any decision to put a child on medication should involve an in-depth evaluation by a doctor and should go hand-in-hand with counseling. When done correctly, medication and therapy can be very beneficial-- even life saving.
My friend is doing it the right way for her son, and I'm very proud of her bravery and her advocacy for her child.
I found several online groups against the “drugging of our kids.” They cite the admittedly frightening side effects of psychotropic drugs and ask if they’re really necessary. Not to mention the stigma attached to children on “crazy pills.” Given these risks, is it OK to give these drugs to children?
Researchers in the United States have stated that the benefits of antidepressants for kids trump the risks. They believe a rise in adolescent suicide is a result of children who should have been medicated going without treatment because of parents and doctors who are hesitant about antidepressant and anxiety medication side effects.
Even so, though they are rare, the side effects and the warning labels are still there. I guess as a parent you have to weigh the possible risks against the notion that the medication could keep your child from being completely miserable and terrified in their daily lives. Miserable and terrified is no way to live. Trust me.
I have Panic Disorder, characterized by recurring severe panic attacks. Unless you’ve experienced a real panic attack, it’s almost impossible to explain what it’s like. They usually entail rapid heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, uncontrollable terror (the fear of losing control and going crazy, the fear of dying) and hyperventilation. Other symptoms are a sensation of choking, chest pain, nausea, numbness or tingling, chills or hot flashes, faintness and some sense of altered reality. They can last for a few minutes, or they can ebb and flow continuously.
This happens to children.
Panic attacks cannot be predicted, therefore I often become anxious or worried wondering when the next panic attack will occur. At a social event? My kid’s school? The grocery store? This leads to anticipatory attacks. I have zero control over the onset of either. You can imagine what life would be like for a child with these symptoms.
I’m not on a long-term anxiety drug. I have researched and worked very hard in therapy over the years to train myself to think and react a certain way when I’m having an attack. I also carry emergency anti-anxiety medication with me that my doctor calls my “stop button.” Knowing I always have those with me is an immeasurable comfort.
It has taken me years to acquire this teeny, tiny bit of control over my own body and reactions, which is not a realistic possibility for children. It’s extremely difficult to live a happy, healthy, fulfilled life when you can’t control your emotions and reactions. And, that’s why I support medication (along with counseling) for kids.
What do you think, moms? Should kids be on anxiety and depression meds, or should they learn to cope on their own? Are we too quick to medicate? Please share your thoughts and experiences below.