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Antidepressant Medication & Children

To help parents better understand and make decisions about the use of SSRI antidepressant medication for their children, the National Mental Health Association has prepared this fact sheet.

Antidepressant Medication and Children: Tips for Parents

Childhood depression is a very serious health problem that affects one in 8 adolescents and one in 33 children. Left untreated, depression can lead to significant problems at home, in school and with peers - as well as to life-threatening problems such as substance abuse and suicide. The good news is that depression in children is very treatable, with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

In October, 2004 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered that SSRIs prescribed for children carry a "black box" label the strongest warning the agency puts forth regarding the potential risk for suicide.

In light of this warning, NMHA offers the following tips for parents on how best to approach their child's care.

  • Seek help if your child shows signs of depression or other mental health problems. Discuss all available treatment options with your child's doctor, and carefully weigh all the risks and benefits associated with each treatment. (If your child is already being treated, express any concerns that you have to your child's doctor.)
  • If your child is prescribed an antidepressant medication, watch him or her closely and make sure s/he receives a thorough evaluation, continual follow-up and careful monitoring - particularly in the first several weeks - by a qualified doctor.
  • Educate yourself about the warning signs of suicide and act quickly if you are concerned. Many people are afraid to discuss the issue of suicide for fear of "planting" the idea, but it is actually better to be open and direct.
  • If your child is taking an antidepressant, do not abruptly discontinue use. Doing so can lead to significant side effects.
  • Separate "fact from fiction" by using credible sources with information based on sound medical science rather than rumor or opinion. Beware of extreme claims, such as antidepressants are "always dangerous" or "never effective." Medical research has demonstrated that such statements are misleading and dangerous.
  • Remember that the worst possible situation for a child with a mental health problem is to go without any treatment at all.

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