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Young People Question their Antidepressants

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Young People Question their Antidepressants

Like many eager freshmen this year, Amy* made Northeastern University her home with a burst of optimism and the excitement of a fresh start in a strange, new place. But just over a year ago, while a high school senior, she almost lost her chance for the college experience—her grades plummeted with her as she fell deeper into depressive episodes, putting her life and her academic future in jeopardy.

The scars she etched in her body tell of her battles with depression, a painful mental disease she dealt with in secrecy for four years before finally seeking help. After years of self-mutilation and uncontrollable sadness, the 18-year-old music industry major started taking antidepressants, the controversial wonder-drugs she attributes her current happiness to.

“I can handle my life much easier now,” she said. “I would not be able to function without them.”

But while Amy embraces her prescription to Zoloft, Northeastern freshman music industry major Erin* plans to drop hers.

The very medicine that helped Amy work her way to happiness has left 17-year-old Erin confused and wary of her treatments. Rather than freeing her from the hopelessness of depression, the antidepressant drugs left her apathetic and numb—and when her current prescription runs out, she won’t be refilling it.

Antidepressant use in children and adolescents has surged in recent years, with 11 million prescriptions written in 2002 alone, a number that has tripled since the early 1990s. But the practice of prescribing the drugs to young people has attracted a cloud of controversy, with lackluster testing of the medicines and recent revelations that the drugs can lead to increased suicidality—the suicidal thoughts and actions that accompany depression.

Still, demand is high and the rate of depression in young people is substantial. The Center for Mental Health Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found in a 1999 study that 6.5% of people aged 18-24 have major depression, yet fewer than 25% of those diagnosed will seek professional treatment—those who do will likely end up on antidepressants.

While much about the treatment of depression remains a mystery, information about the illness in children and adolescents is even cloudier. Carol Glod, a local expert on depression and associate professor at the Bouve College of Nursing at Northeastern University, says the only solution is to conduct more research.

“You have to do something for the person that has depression and, without the research, we don’t know what works,” she says.
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