North America relies on a treatment-first approach to solving depression, which means, many doctors are too quick to put teens on antidepressant medications. Prescriptions are dolled out in excess with little work done to uncover if the teen really needs them in the first place.
It’s recommended that parents try alternatives – natural remedies and therapy – first. The teen brain is still not fully developed and antidepressants change brain structure. There is also a small percentage of teens who experience increased suicidal thoughts when put on these medications.
Parents should read and consider the questions below before putting their teen on an antidepressant medication.
1. Does your teen have a brain chemical imbalance or are they experiencing depressive symptoms due to stress in life, or an inability to handle stress? There are varying degrees of depression. That means what causes are different and how to treat it is different. Some people have a brain chemical issue. Some people don’t. Most teens don’t have a brain chemical issue, they have an inability to handle stress. Most teens simply need to make changes to their life or learn new ways of handling situations and emotions and their mood will improve. It’s important you as their parent know the differences. If you haven’t already, download the Depression Recovery Map and watch the accompanying three parent video series.
2. Has your teen been seen more than one medical professional for a diagnosis? There is one factor that exists and can’t be eliminated in the process of diagnosing depression, it is: Perception. Each doctor has a different level of expertise and different experience and that means they bring a different view to diagnosing a patient. Since diagnosing depression relies on questioning and subjective experience of the doctor misdiagnosis happens a lot. Take your teen to see two or more professionals. It’s crucial you get a second opinion before you decide on a course of treatment.
3. Is your teen eating properly, physically active and sleeping enough? There are base physical requirements the body needs to ensure it can function at normal levels and produce the chemicals involved in regulating happy mood. Does your teen eat a well-balanced diet? Are they getting enough complex carbohydrates that are essential for brain health? Are they physically active (getting a minimum of 30 minutes a day)? Are they sleeping a minimum of six to ten hours?
4. Does your teen know how to deal with tough emotions and life challenges? The teenage years mark the transition from childhood to adulthood so teens are only learning now how to be serious about life and be responsible. The teens years are challenging for most people. Part of building health stress resiliency skills involves making mistakes and learning how to deal with them in positive ways. Do you think your teen knows how to manage emotions effectively? Do they need to learn? Therapy and healthy mentors (that aren’t necessarily you because teens don’t want to share everything with their parents) can help.
5. Does your teen have an adult in their life they can talk to about emotions and life challenges? It’s helpful when teens have an adult in their life, that is not their parents, that they can confide in when they need to. This person could be a relative, a counsellor or therapist.
6. Have you tried natural supplements for your teen? It’s suggested that some people are born with a genetic vulnerability for depression. It’s recommended that you try natural supplements before medications to see if any of those help your teen improve their mood.
7. How is your relationship with your teen? Many parents who have defiant teens rush to send them to therapists and think they are worse than they are. Sometimes teens resent parents for the choices they make that result in changes to their life that are out of control. You may want to consider learning some new communications tactics and try to restore or rebuild any issues in your relationship. It’s important you can communicate effectively with your teen.
8. Do you think your teen needs an antidepressant because they are harming themselves or communicating through writing and art that they “hate themselves” or think about suicide? Teens are struggling with emotions and learning who they are during these years. Many of them haven’t learned how to communicate with words what they are dealing with inside. It’s not unusual that teens communicate negative emotions through art or by harming themselves. While this does signal that your teen needs immediate help, it does not mean they need to necessary be put on a medication right away.
The decision to put your teen on an antidepressant should be considered with due diligence before taking action. Watch this quick video for more on teens and antidepressant medications.