Some children with learning and attention issues also have anxiety and depression. If your child has been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, you may wonder if medication could help. The decision to put your child on medication is one to consider carefully with your child’s doctor. Let’s look at some of the most common types of medications for depression and anxiety, along with their benefits and drawbacks.
Antidepressant Medication for Children
Depression is usually treated with drugs called antidepressants. There are currently two antidepressants approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in children. Both belong to a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
These are usually the first type of drugs a doctor will prescribe for a child’s depression. SSRIs are taken only once a day. They have few side effects. If SSRIs don’t help, a doctor may try other classes of drugs. These include atypical antidepressants or tricyclic antidepressants. About 60 percent of kids respond well to the first antidepressant medication they try. Some need to try other medications to find one that works. With any of these drugs it can take six weeks or more to see results. Although antidepressant medications help, side effects are possible.
Some parents have heard antidepressants increase a child’s risk of committing suicide. However, in 2007 the FDA conducted a study and found that wasn’t true. In any given year, 3 to 8 percent of high school students show suicidal behaviors. But most of them don’t actually commit suicide. It is more likely for children and adolescents with untreated depression to commit suicide, not those who are on medication for depression.
Anti-Anxiety Medication for Children
Kids with anxiety problems can also benefit from taking SSRIs. The FDA has approved certain SSRIs for use in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in kids. OCD is an anxiety disorder in which kids have obsessive, unwanted thoughts and repeated behaviors (such as excessive hand washing).
Other drugs are sometimes prescribed to treat extreme anxiety in children. These medications include benzodiazepines and atypical antidepressants. As with antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications can cause side effects.
Medication: Just One Part of Treatment
Medication is just one part of treating depression and anxiety in kids. Experts also recommend cognitive behavior therapy. CBT helps kids understand and deal with negative thoughts and anxiety. Research has shown that CBT helps kids separate realistic from unrealistic thoughts.
The Stigma of Medication for Mental Health Issues
Some parents hesitate to put their child on medication for mental health problems. They or the people close to them may think issues like depression aren’t real. They may think that the child just needs to “pull herself together” or “snap out of it.” Or that she’ll just “grow out of” her feelings. Try to tune out myths when making health decisions for your child. Turn instead to your child’s doctor and other resources you can trust.