Antidepressant Use Quadrupled for 12- to 17-Year-Olds


According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kids 12 to 17 years old are four times as likely to take an antidepressant than they were 20 years ago. Girls are 2 1/2 times as likely to be prescribed antidepressants. Here's a look at statistics on pediatric antidepressant usage and considerations for parents in seeking treatment for kids with MDE (major depressive episodes), mood disorders or depression.

Fewer kids, more antidepressants

In 1988, less than 1 percent of teens were prescribed an antidepressant. Now, 3.7 percent of those 12 to 17 take one. 11 million children younger than 19 are on anxiety or depression meds. Contrast this increase with the fact the overall percentage of the population in this age category has dropped. In 1964, 36 percent of Americans were in the 0-17 age range (about 9 percent were 12-17). Now, children account for about 24 percent. There are fewer children in the U.S., but more medicated for depression.

Antidepressants up, Major Depressive Episodes down for kids

The criteria for antidepressant prescription comes from a patient-reported survey, the PHQ-9. Patients rate the severity of mood issues: sadness, irritability, apathy, joylessness, guilt and worthlessness. Other questions deal with thoughts of death or suicide, inability to concentrate, difficulty making decisions, fatigue, lack of energy, feeling restless or slowed down, changes in sleep, appetite, and activity levels. High incidence in any one of these categories is called an MDE (Major Depressive Episode). The number of MDEs in children has dropped for most age categories and both genders. Fewer children are reporting MDEs, but more are medicated for them.

Antidepressants without clinical evaluations, therapy

The CDC report says that less than one-third of adolescents taking an antidepressant, have been seen by a physician within the last year. Eight percent of those taking antidepressants didn't have symptoms of depression. This bears out studies which show that many kids get antidepressants, without adequate clinical or psychological support, therapy or counseling. As reported by insurance companies, less than half of kids on anantidepressant also see a therapist. Older kids are more likely to exhibit depression that younger kids, but they received counseling less often. The percentage is dropping annually. ChildStats says that the percentage of children with MDE who actually discuss the depressive episode with a physician or counselor has declined as well. 40 percent received psychological treatment in 2005 and only 35 percent in 2009.

FDA warns against SSRI antidepressants for teens and kids

The FDA began posting black-box warnings on SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) antidepressants because they have been linked to "anxiety, agitation, panic attacks, insomnia, irritability, hostility, impulsivity, akathisia (severe restlessness), hypomania, and mania" (many of the symptoms parents give the drug for, ironcially).  The FDA issued a specific cautionary warning about SSRIs used to treat pediatric patients. Symptoms tend to show up more with younger patients, and new antidepressant patients, primarily children. The onset for these symptoms in usually within the first two months of use. The FDA urges parents and health care providers to monitor children on antidepressants and to discontinue use if depression symptoms worsen.



Paxil Antidepressant Caused Weight Gain, High Cholesterol, Possibly Stillbirth

Eleven years ago, I began taking the antidepressant medication Paxil (Paroxetine, Fluxetine) for anxiety issues. Paxil is now known to cause many side effects. Weight gain and elevated LDL cholesterol are two problems commonly caused by Paxil. In 2001, Paxil was a newer antidepressant and less was known about it. A therapist had recommended that I consult my physician about trying the highly touted Paxil for my recurrent panic attacks.

Paxil did help me manage and process my panic attacks and anxiety issues. However I became increasingly alarmed over the horror stories linking Paxil with infant birth defects, miscarriage and stillborn babies.Before I had heard of Paxil's link to pregnancy and birth problems, I had taken Paxil during a pregnancy, under my Ob Gyn and midwife's direction. That pregnancy ended in stillbirth.

Paxil also caused weight gain. For the first 40 odd years of my life, I a) maintained a constant weight of 115-130 pounds even after giving birth four times and b) did not take anti-depressants. In 2003, I went on Paxil after the loss of a baby. Since then I've been steadily gaining weight. Yes, I'm getting older, yes I'm in menopause. But those two factors together are not enough to explain this rampant weight gain.

I explored thyroid issues. Initial tests showed that I suffered from some hypothyroid (sluggish, low functioning thyroid) and some hyperthyroid (overactive thyroid) issues. I took Levoxyl or Synthroid. Later test showed, however, that my thyroid was 'fine'. Studies show that the the Levoxyl threshold levels in general testing are way to broad to be accurate. So thyroid issues may still a problem.

Of course there is always the obvious weight gain issue. Too many calories, not enough exercise. For the first 40 plus years, I have been able to eat pretty much whatever I wanted and not gain weight. Well, I thought, that's clearly no longer the case. I went on a stringent vegetarian diet, no soda, few sweets, no eggs, very limited dairy and only yogurt, vegetables, whole grains, fiber, lots of water, the whole diet package. I have followed this regime for over four months. Not one pound did I lose. In fact, I gained weight.

So something was clearly wrong. I asked the doctor if antidepressants cause weight gain and found that indeed they do. Maybe that's a dumb question. Maybe I should have known. Or maybe my doctor should have told me about the weight gain. He's the one filling out the prescription with one hand and scolding me for not losing weight with the other. And you want to know what's really bizarre? My appetite has changed since being on the Paxil. In fact I have very little appetite. Food doesn't taste as good. I have lost my taste for chocolate, cheese, desserts, ice cream, all the things I used to enjoy, before antidepressants, and still I gain weight. But I can also easily binge and not notice it, thanks to the drugging Paxil.

When I googled "antidepressant weight gain" I found a deluge of comments from folks who have experienced the same issues. Now that is depressing! There are better antidepressants for avoiding weight gain. Wellbutrin has a better reputation than Paxil and Depakote. But I decided to skip the drugs and wean myself off from all the meds. I'm continuing the healthier eating program. If you want to follow the journey or have antidepressant horror stories of your own to share follow this blog.

2016 update to this post: Guess what? After quitting the drugs, calorie counting and working at weight loss, I've shed 100 pounds and 10 sizes!

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