As a parent, every decision you make about your kids can feel like the big one. You wonder if something is going to help or hurt them but are left with no choice but to dive in and hope for the best.
While a lot of these decisions end up being quite small, a few are just as impactful as they feel.
One of the biggest falling under this category is the choice of whether or not your kid should go on antidepressants.
“With children, the decision to start a medication can be challenging. Therapists and doctors alike are cognizant and wary of the fact that their brains are still developing,” Vicky Woodruff, a licensed social worker, tells Healthline.
“This is not an easy decision to make for any parent because there is no perfect solution. Medications come with side effects and that is a possibility. On the other hand, severe depression or anxiety left untreated can hinder a child’s development and in some cases may be life threatening.”
Whether you’ve been considering it or your child has brought it up with you, it’s first important to acknowledge that this is a normal, potentially very beneficial course of action.
Treatment for mental health conditions should be sought out in the same manner as any ailment would be.
“Some kids, because of their biology and what is going on in the environment, would benefit from a mild antidepressant that is started on a low dose and slowly increased over time,” Támara Hill, a licensed child and family therapist, national board certified counselor, and certified trauma therapist, tells Healthline.
Once you’ve acknowledged that, look at the symptoms of depression your kid is exhibiting and has mentioned.
“Signs that a child or adolescent could benefit from medication include any symptom that begins to create dysfunctional behavior, challenges in multiple relationships, difficulty taking care of basic needs, challenges with attending school and keeping grades up, and other functionality issues,” Hill says.
“If I see a child who is very cheerful by nature but is being negatively impacted by negative self-talk, has thoughts of suicide or is cutting, or is failing in school but clearly intelligent, antidepressants is what I recommend,” Hill continues.
“A younger child’s worry might turn into stomachaches or headaches, while an older one might cope by using drugs or sex. Some kids just go internal, get quiet, and sleep more. Others become more aggressive and argumentative. Studies have shown the deleterious effects of social media on teens who are so sensitive to peer acceptance,” Charlotte Reznick, PhD, a child adolescent seasoned psychotherapist, tells Healthline.
While looking at the symptoms yourself is key to seeing how to proceed, it’s always a good idea to schedule an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist (licensed to prescribe medicine) even if you’re unsure if medicine is the right move. This way, a mental health professional can meet with your child and see their symptoms for themselves to determine a recommended course of action.
A medical professional will also be able to clearly outline any potential side effects medication may bring.
If the best course of action ends up being for your child or teen to go on medicine, what will that look like?
“Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications are prescribed only after careful assessment, as medications can cause unwanted side effects. Different patients react differently to medications. Therefore, the treating doctors will start off with the lowest dose of prescription and will have the dose modified according to the patient’s needs and response toward the treatment,” Dr. Sashini Seen, a general practitioner of medicine at DoctorOnCall, tells Healthline.
Especially in the beginning, the prescribing doctor should monitor your child frequently and carefully for side effects and how they respond to the medication to make sure it’s the right fit.
It may take some time for your kid to adjust and feel any improvement, but antidepressants can have a really positive impact on them. While they may choose to stay on them indefinitely, it’s possible that they only need a short boost from them.
“Antidepressants do not have to be taken over a long period of time as we now have sophisticated medications that could be used within a 3-month span and make a major impact,” Hill says, explaining that this may even be the case for those with moderate or severe depression.
Though once a person is adjusted to the medicine, they may choose to stay on even as they improve to maintain that continued support.
If your child does want to stop, it’s important to do it under the guidance of your child’s doctor. It’s often safer to gradually decrease medication than suddenly stop and antidepressants should never be stopped without first speaking to a doctor.
Keep therapy in mind as well as an important addition during and even after medicine, with more low-cost options available for youth and students.
At the end of the day, the key is to maintain an open mind and consult an expert to determine what course of action may be the best for your kid.
There’s no shame in seeking care for depression and anxiety and sometimes medicine can help in ways people can’t alone. All you can do is be there for them and help them find the solution that will lead them to a better quality of life.
Sarah Fielding is a New York City-based writer. Her writing has appeared in Bustle, Insider, Men’s Health, HuffPost, Nylon, and OZY where she covers social justice, mental health, health, travel, relationships, entertainment, fashion, and food.