In The News: Kids and Depression
June 14 issue - Just 20 years ago, medical schools taught that children don't get clinical depression. Now the National Institute of Mental Health says about 4 percent of teens have it at any given time, and many of them are taking antidepressants like Prozac. Should they? In March, the FDA urged drug manufacturers to insert explicit warnings on their labels about possible risks of suicidal behavior associated with the pills.
Now there's at least some good news for parents. Last week The New York Times reported preliminary results of a major, government-funded study of more than 400 teenagers. According to the Times, the study concludes that Prozac--the only antidepressant approved for kids--is indeed helpful, particularly when combined with talk therapy. The finding that drugs and talk together make for superior treatment came as little surprise to doctors. "Drugs alone are rarely sufficient for complex psychiatric disorders in children," says Dr. David Fassler, trustee of the American Psychiatric Association. "By the time kids get to therapy, they have a lot of self-esteem issues, problems at home, feelings of guilt."
But what about that suicide risk? Experts are divided about how to interpret existing studies and are awaiting a comprehensive review commissioned by the FDA. This week the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill will issue a report on using the drugs safely. The bottom line: treatment significantly improves kids' long-term prognosis, but parents and doctors need to monitor children closely, particularly during the first few weeks of drug therapy.