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Antidepressant prescriptions to youths spiked during and after the pandemic, study finds

·2 mins

Many young people have reported having poor mental health during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. Their experiences are affirmed by a new study finding that the rate of prescribing antidepressants to this group also spiked during the same period.

The number of young people between the ages 12 and 25 receiving antidepressants was already growing before the pandemic. But since the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States in March 2020, the dispensing rate rose nearly 64% faster than normal, according to the study published in a journal.

In female adolescents ages 12 to 17, the dispensing rate increased 130% faster after March 2020. For female young adults ages 18 to 25, the rate spiked by 60%.

In contrast, there was essentially no change in antidepressant dispensing rate after March 2020 in male young adults, and a surprising decline in male adolescents.

A few earlier studies assessed changes in the post-pandemic dispensing rate nationally, but to the authors’ knowledge, the new study is the first one specific to adolescents and young adults.

From 2016 to 2022, the monthly dispensing rate increased by 66.3%, a trend that surged during and after the pandemic.

“By the second year of the pandemic, emergency room visits for poor mental health in youth rose, and we saw an uptick in visits for suicide attempts or self-harm especially among female adolescents,” a child and adolescent psychiatrist said.

Experts discouraged stigmatizing the need for, or use of, antidepressant medications. Antidepressants can be extremely effective, improving people’s quality of life, mood, and rates of self-harm.

However, there are understandable concerns regarding antidepressants. Parents should be willing to have a frank discussion about the pros and cons when their kids are having mental health concerns.

Drastic changes in children’s behavior or mood may signal a need for antidepressants, but a pediatric psychiatrist can recommend the best treatment plan and answer any questions. It’s important to check in on young people and provide support when needed.