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.

Elissa P May 18, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Good article, Raven. I get this question a lot from moms that have kids on the Autism Spectrum since my son has PDD/NOS Asperger's. I've never medicated my child because all of his behavioral interventions have worked for him. That being said, I would never judge anyone for giving their child medication for any neurological diagnosis whether it be ADD or in this case, depression. If you have tried behavioral modification with counceling and your child is still depressed, then it's worth a try. It can be very tricky getting the right meds or the right combination of meds...so you can't just give a kid a pill and expect them to be ok the next morning. It just doesn't work that way. You are very brave to open yourself up about your anxiety issues. Kudos. And btw...if you want to start a panic attack support group...count me in...I've suffered from them for years. (did you ever notice how I stand up, back against the wall close to the door at Scolar's tournaments? ;)
Raven Nichols May 18, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Thanks, Elissa. I have been second guessing revealing that personal information since I submitted this column. Your kind words are much appreciated. You make an excellent point about there being no magic poll that "fixes" kids. It's a process.
Raven Nichols May 18, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Pill. No magic pill. That's what I get for doing this via phone. ;)
Roz powell May 18, 2012 at 09:59 PM
After other interventions . YES !!
Crystal Huskey May 19, 2012 at 01:33 AM
I always reveal too much personal information on Patch ;) And everywhere else, LOL. Remember, everyone here knows how much I weigh(ed)! I have had panic attacks in the past, during a particularly stressful time, and you really think you're dying. It's one of the worst states of being. I agree with Elissa, though, to try behavioural modification and counseling before medication. I think that goes for adults and kids. Doctors hand out medication so quickly, when maybe there are certain people you need to cut out of your life, or certain habits you need to change. For me, exercise does wonders, especially in the winter when it's so easy to get the "winter blues."


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