Teenage depression: Are drugs necessary?

Q: Georgia: I’m a single mom with a 12-year-old son who is in early junior high this year. His grades went down, from A’s and B’s to D’s and F’s, even though I got a tutor. I am a psych tech, and he appears to be suffering from depression. He has tearful episodes. He feels worthless. On Sunday afternoons he sleeps all the time. I have set up an evaluation for him, but I would hate to see a 12-year-old starting medication. I am wondering what they do now?

Teenage depression: Are drugs necessary?
Teenage depression: Are drugs necessary?

A: Dean Edell, M.D.: I can hear that you know too much about the subject, and so maybe you are assuming too much. It’s better not to do that, even though you may be right and do have an intimate knowledge of your son.

Remember that the teenage years are terrible times. There is such angst in being a teenager.

I saw a one-act play at my kid’s high school about the angst of the teen years, and it brought back so many memories. The kids did a great job covering all their pressures and everything from zits to self-acceptance.

Who on earth who would go back to that time, to their teenage years? People in their 80s say that was the worst decade of their lives. So right there is enough reason to be tearful and upset – it may just be that.

About the grades – I will say that I am concerned about whether or not there is drug use involved that you may not know about.

In any case, don’t be afraid of the possibility of medication. Get him eva! luated, as you are doing, and unless it’s really bad, where the doctor may prescribe something right away, they are not going to turn to medication immediately.

And they can’t force you to agree to give your child medication if you don’t want it. As it happens, today’s antidepressant medications are very good. So good that everyone is taking them and abusing them, in fact. But I do not have a problem with a teenager taking medication, and would allow it in my own child if it were necessary.

I would bet you that counseling, having someone to talk to right now would be a great help for him. Get the diagnoses first. Afterwards, we can talk again about the options.

Remember that drugs are not the automatic first line of defense, but if it is, then the person you’ve entrusted with your child’s mental health has made a judgement, and you can ask about it, “Why do you think this is necessary? Should he try some counseling first?” Perhaps the therapist will! shock you and say, “Listen, your son is contemplating suicide and this can help.” So get that evaluation.

And if he does prescribe medication, I do not see major side effects or problems. I am more concerned about other kinds of psychotherapeutic drugs in kids than I am about antidepressants.