This is not intended, nor should it be used, as a professional guide to the use of psychotropic medications, as an assessment instrument or treatment planner. The purpose of this document is to provide basic information regarding medication used in treatment of depression in school-age children and adolescents.
Depression, affecting approximately sixteen million people in North America, is regarded as the major psychiatric disorder of the time (National Institute of Mental Health [NIMH], 1994). This disorder affects at least 6% of the youth population per year (NIMH, 1999). Young women usually experience depressive episodes more frequently than young men. Nationally, of every 100,000 adolescents, almost three thousand typically experience depressive symptoms, and there likely will be eight to ten suicides out of this group (Brown, 1999). The Nevada Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) recorded 448 episodes of treatment for depression among 2,089 youth in out-of-home placement in Clark County between July 1997 and June 1999, affecting one out of every five youth in foster care (Thomas, 1999).
Depression in youth is caused by a variety of events (see UNCE Fact Sheet 99-70 “Recognizing Depression in Youth”). Typically, most youth are able to come to terms with this event and get on with their lives.
Occasionally, the process deteriorates to the point that youth are overwhelmed and no longer able to cope without professional help. In severe cases, it can lead to thoughts or acts of personal harm or suicide. It is not uncommon for young people to be preoccupied with issues of mortality and to contemplate the effect their death would have on those around them. Any statements involving suicidal thought must be taken seriously and acted upon immediately (See Resources on back page).
In the majority of cases, depression is treated with “talking therapy”, using a directed approach that allows the youth to overcome the depression and resume an active, emotionally healthy life. However, in chronic or very severe cases, psychotropic medications will be prescribed to assist the youth in stabilizing their mood swings and debilitating feelings of helplessness and despair, helping them continue their verbal therapy.
While there is a great deal of controversy over the prescribing of these powerful medications for children and adolescents, the fact remains that, in severe cases, medications are an integral part of the treatment protocol. For that reason, this fact sheet will attempt to provide an overview of the most commonly prescribed drugs currently authorized by the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) in the pharmacological treatment of child and adolescent depression. This document will not take a position in regards to prescribing anti-depressant medication to young people, but it does provide some very basic information regarding specific medications, known side effects, and precautions to be observed while taking them.
Anti-depressant medications fall into four main types. They are listed below with some of the technical and (brand names) that fall into these categories (Diamond, 1998).
Discussions with pharmacy staff at the Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services in Las Vegas revealed the predominance of SSRI’s as the preferred medication for children and adolescents. The table below lists the top five anti-depressants in this class, their known side effects and cautionary advisories listed on the medication pamphlet provided by the manufacturer. The choice of medication typically is guided by the type of depression and any problems with side-effects (Goldstein, 1998).
Treatment with psychotropic medication is a serious matter for caregivers, children and adolescents. The process of treating depression, when using an anti-depressant as part of the treatment plan, is made much easier when the youth and the caregiver are fully informed regarding the process. The following questions are very basic in nature, and the prescribing professional should be able and willing to answer them to your satisfaction before the young person begins taking them.
By being informed, caregivers and the children or youth in their care can be equal partners in the critical issue of depression treatment.
This is not intended, nor should it be used, as a treatment planner. The purpose of this publication is to provide a brief overview of currently prescribed pharmaceutical options available for the treatment of depression.
Statewide Crisis Call Center = (877) 885-4673 – available 24 hours Clark County
Suicide Prevention Center of Clark County = (702) 731-2990
Family Crisis Center (Volunteer staffing) = (775) 962-5888 (days) (775) 962-5262 (evenings)
Mental Health Crisis Line = (800) 992-5757
Extension's Communication Team
Day, P., 2000, Depression - Pharmacological Treatment, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, FS-00-35
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