Dispelling Myths Around Anti-Depressant Use In Children

March 15, 2015
Dispelling Myths Around Antidepressant use in Children

When a child is diagnosed with depression, parents are confronted with a wave of overwhelming emotions. Confusion, sadness, fear and compassion are commonly experienced by parents trying to navigate the mental health system for the first time. However, often times parents lead with their emotions, and look to the internet for answers before consulting a professional. Unfortunately, the internet is full of false information that can confuse and worry many parents. While it is encouraging that more and more parents and their kids are willing to seek treatment, there are many myths around the use of antidepressants that are perpetuating stigma, and often prevent children from getting the comprehensive treatment that they need.

“I don’t want my child to start using them, or they will get addicted.” 

Parents are wise to be concerned about addiction, as drugs such as marijuana, even used infrequently, can often lead to more regular use and experimentation with illicit drugs. However, anti-depressants, or SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) do not fall into a potentially addictive category. There is no conclusive research to indicate that anti-depressant use, when taken as prescribed, is addictive.

“It’s just a ‘happy’ pill.” 

If a real ‘happy’ pill existed, we would probably all be in line to take it. In reality, anti-depressants work to correct a chemical imbalance that is taking place in the brain. If an individual has no chemical balance to correct in the first place, (i.e someone who is not suffering from depressive symptoms) these pills will have no effect on ones mental health. The medication is designed to correct an imbalance in neurotransmitters that is only occurring in those with depressive or anxious symptoms. 

“The risk of suicidal thoughts increases with antidepressant use.”

As a therapist who works predominantly with children and adolescents, this is perhaps the most common myth that I hear. This is likely due to the fact that many television commercials for anti-depressants cite this as a risk of using the medication. What I tell my clients is this: Imagine being so hopeless that you are contemplating harming yourself, or even perhaps, ending your life. Then imagine you start taking a medication that begins to improve your mood, even ever so slightly at the beginning. It is during this window, when some people have just the slightest bit more energy, that they may reflect back on emotional pain they were in only days or weeks earlier. During this period, some people may experience suicidal thinking during this time for fear of returning to that state of despair. They have some more energy, and may be seeing things more clearly, but are certainly still experiencing significant depressive symptoms. So this possible increase in suicidal thoughts is not a side effect of the medication, but actually an indication that the medication is working, and they are on the path to recovery.

Whenever a child or adolescent begins using an anti-depressant medication, parents and caregivers should always provide close supervision to ensure safety, and provide unconditional love and support during this challenging time. While there are many benefits to using antidepressants, they also come with side effects and should only be used under a doctor’s care. It is best practice to consult a psychiatrist to see if antidepressants are appropriate for your child.

If you are concerned or suspect your child may be suffering from depression, please contactAssociates in Psychotherapy at (866) 220-8371 or visit us at www.chicagoclinicaltherapist.com