Should I Medicate My Child for Depression?
Is your child depressed? Should you medicate your child for depression? Parents are conflicted about using anti-depressants to help their child with depression. It's difficult to determine whether you should put your child on ANY medication never-mind antidepressants.
Short answer: It depends! Consult a medical professional if your child is struggling.
Here's the long answer:
My daughter Claire began showing signs of depression in Spring of 2015 (middle of 8th grade). She had a lot going on with puberty, her relationship with her dad was in the crapper because, well, he’s kinda clueless in the ways of the world and he did a lot of things wrong after our divorce, and did I mention she was going through puberty? Her dad was trying to cram her into this “mold” of what he thought a teenage girl should be and look like. Oh and she was pushing back. I tried very hard to communicate with him about how he was treating his daughter but he’s a typical narcissist and thought he could do no wrong. That’s in another post How Divorce Affected My Child.
She was lethargic, couldn’t concentrate, somber mood, struggled in school, withdrawn, and didn't find joy in any activity. She was pushing herself every day to get out of bed. I thought that this is just puberty. I remember going through it as well.
Side note: Claire was tested and diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder. I have it too but I didn’t see the signs in her until the doctor started asking a ton of questions. That’s when it hit me! All these years she’s had ADD when I thought she was just lazy and was not paying attention because she didn’t care. For the depression story, I thought it important to tell you she’s on ADD meds.
Back to the depression story.
When the sadness started, I thought it was, well, just sadness…and frustration that her life sucked. Her parents were divorced and her dad was marrying the wicked witch of the Midwest. Claire was very angry but hey, she was going through puberty so I figured I would continue to support her and eventually she would snap out of it.
Claire was in counseling on and off to deal with the situation with her father but it didn’t seem to be helping. It was costing a ton of money. She told me “mom, she doesn’t give me any advice that is earth-shattering and I feel like you give me better advice than she does”. We stopped with counseling.
I was working full time so it was hard for me to be there for her when I was at work so I just continued to check-in with her often and keep communication open.
I was totally against putting her on an anti-depressant because I had heard there are some alarming side-effects for teens. A friend, who’s child went through the same thing, suggested St. John’s Wart. During that year, I tried giving her vitamins, St. Johns Wart, I encouraged her to journal her thoughts, I bought her a gym membership; got her library books I thought might help, etc. She was willing to try everything I put in front of her but by Spring of 2016 (middle of 9th grade) she was in a very dark place.
In April of 2016 we were in the kitchen talking and she said, “sometimes when I’m at school, I look down from the third floor and wonder if the sadness will stop if I just jumped”. I was in shock. I knew she was struggling but I thought I had a handle on it. She also said, “when I’m walking home from the bus, I sometimes think if I just walk in front of a moving car, maybe the pain will go away”.
I cried a lot! I couldn't help but think what could have happened if we didn't have the relationship we have. What would she have done if she didn't feel she could come to me and tell me her deepest darkest thoughts?
My heart broke for her and I asked her if she was planning on harming herself and she said “no, but I just don’t want to feel this way anymore and I try to think of ways to end it”. She meant her sadness.
Claire sees a psychiatrist for her ADD and the doctor knows that she has signs of depression. At 10:30pm I called the psychiatrist and made an appointment. We started her on anti-depressions right away.
After about 2 weeks on a small dose of Zoloft, she was doing so much better. The change was incredible. I know that anti-depressants give a euphoric feeling in the beginning and that’s what was happening. It was a good thing though because everything improved in her life including her relationship with her father. She was able to get past the sadness and look at the situation with her father from a different perspective.
I am no longer doubting my decision to put her on medication. It has helped her tremendously.
This past January she was struggling with a milder depression. I was experiencing it too because we didn’t have sun for about a month and the election fallout was constantly on our minds. She said she wanted to explore a higher dose of anti-depressant. Mhm, this is the problem with anti-depressants. You come down from the euphoria and have a hard time coping on your own and you need more to get that same feeling back again. The smallest amount of sadness prompts you to want more.
In my opinion, that’s not how anti-depressants should be used. Get yourself stable on them, then, in addition, use other resources to also help you cope. I don’t feel it should be used as a miracle pill for all your problems. You need to do some of the work as well.
Instead of increasing the anti-depressant dose I researched light therapy. I had been wanting to try it for a while and decided it would be worth a shot to find an alternative. I insisted she sit in front of the lamp for 20 minutes each day before school and surprisingly it worked! She was a little cranky that she had to get out of bed early but admitted it was helping her. It was just enough to "take the edge off". I used it too and felt happier and had more energy.
I purchased a Carex Health Brand Day Light Sky. The link* for the one I purchased is below. I offer this because if your child has SAD (seasonal affective disorder) this may be a solution.
The instructions tell you to position the light above your head and sit 12” from the light looking downward. You don’t want to look directly into the light so reading a book, playing games on devices, puzzles, homework are all good activities to do under the lamp. There are 2 power levels. I use the lower power and my daughter uses the higher power.
It definitely helped us both through a very difficult time. The price is a decent price and it’s an excellent quality lamp. I’m very happy with it and will pull it out again next year during the winter months.
Keep in mind I can only speak to my daughter’s situation. She is still on 50 mg of Sertraline (generic Zoloft).
These are the features that sold me:
- 10,000 LUX of balanced White Light for eye safety
- Glare-free diffuser filters 99.3% of UV
- Meets the strict therapeutic criteria of leading experts. Contemporary, attractive and multi-purpose lighting system.
- Features BrightZone TM Technology
- Versatile - Bright Light Therapy lamp and a high quality task lamp that emits clear, non-glare light
Final thoughts. We need to listen to our children and get them help if they need it. My daughter has a friend who has expressed to her that he’s been feeling depressed lately. His mom is TOTALLY against putting him on medication. Claire told him that I was willing to talk to his mom about our experience if she needed to ask any questions. She refused my help and will not put him on medication.
I urge every parent to do the research, ask questions, and make the best decision for their child regardless of their own reservations. Keeping your head in the sand is not going to help anyone. This is a serious illness and it’s affecting our kids in a dramatic way. Please talk to them and get them help.