Not long ago, a study was brought to my attention about the number of adolescents taking antidepressant medication was brought to my attention. I can’t say I was surprised. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data stating that one in 25 kids ages 12 to 17 in the U.S. are on antidepressants.
I believe this is a problem that has been growing and is being ignored. It’s a little hidden secret that nobody wants to talk about. There is an avalanche of patients that for one reason or another have been diagnosed with depression or alleged depression. And it is far too easy to go to any physician and get a prescription for any type of antidepressant. The old days when you had to go to a psychiatrist to evaluate your mental state if you were depressed—are long gone. Now you can go to your general practitioner and tell them “listen, I’m sad, I’m depressed” and in many situations patients will get a prescription for an antidepressant right away.
I think Americans are being aggressively over-diagnosed and have become too sensitive to minor health problems. We have started to believe that we shouldn’t have to live our lives with problems or depression, and picking up a pill is a quick fix to feel better. So we have set a mindset where folks don’t want to deal with any sort of issue – where you have aggressive campaigns by pharmaceutical companies to get everybody on the pill and that is a fact already in adults. But what is amazing and scary to me is that it is now an epidemic in kids. And that’s dangerous.
The biggest risk for taking antidepressants is that one size does not fit all. For example, let’s take bipolar disorder. If you have bipolar disorder, which is a very common condition, and you’re given the wrong type of antidepressant, your problem could get worse. So the first thing that we have to recognize is, a psychiatrist with proper training is the person you need in order to make the proper diagnosis. Is it bipolar disorder? Is it something else? They are the only ones that should be able to prescribe these medications.
For adolescents, when you start introducing medications like antidepressants, there is a warning that is being put on labels that these medications can make your conditions worse. And suicide ideation is a significant problem, especially with teens. If they start taking the pills and things are not getting better, they may potentially do more harm than good. So for kids, I caution parents that if they are allowing their children to take medication like this, that they make sure that the physician made the right diagnosis and that their children are monitored very carefully.
The bottom line? These antidepressants can be very effective when taken correctly. But they are not magic and are not a quick fix to all of life’s problems.
Someday we are going to have to wake up from the dream.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.