Depression Treatment Medication Should Children Take Antidepressants? By Leonard Holmes, PhD Leonard Holmes, PhD LinkedIn Leonard Holmes, PhD, is a pioneer of the online therapy field and a clinical psychologist specializing in chronic pain and anxiety. Learn about our editorial process Updated on December 24, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Aron Janssen, MD Medically reviewed by Aron Janssen, MD LinkedIn Aron Janssen, MD is board certified in child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry and is the vice chair of child and adolescent psychiatry Northwestern University. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Kaori Ando / Getty Images While antidepressants have been shown to be effective in treating major depression and anxiety in children and teens, they need to be used cautiously and monitored closely to make sure there are no serious side effects. What to Do If Your Child Is Anxious or Depressed Before your child starts on an antidepressant, their doctor will want to conduct a physical exam and take their medical history to rule out any medical condition that may be causing their symptoms. If these exams turn out fine, your child may then be referred to a mental health professional for a formal evaluation. This evaluation will gather important information such as family history, behaviors you notice in your child, and any risk factors there might be for them to hurt themselves. A psychiatric evaluation is usually done by someone with experience evaluating children for mental illness. This can include a pediatrician, family doctor, or a psychiatrist or psychologist, preferably one who specializes in pediatric mental health. Understanding all of these factors will help you and your mental health professional decide on the best course of action for your child, which may or may not include antidepressants. How to Tell If Your Child Shows Symptoms of Depression Getting Your Child Started on Antidepressants If you and your physician decide that an antidepressant is necessary, your child will start on the lowest possible dose. This may have to be adjusted if it's not helping your child's symptoms. The risk for suicidal thoughts and/or behavior is greatest during the first couple months of starting an antidepressant, as well as if the dose is increased or decreased, so be particularly observant of your child's behavior during these times. Your mental health professional will also want to monitor your child fairly closely as well. Antidepressants Approved for Children Of the five major classes of antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are the most commonly prescribed medication for children and adolescents with anxiety and depression. The 5 Types of Antidepressants Antidepressants for Depression Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are considered the first-line medication option for young people with depression. Prozac (fluoxetine) is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of depression in both children and adolescents (ages 8 years and older); Lexapro (escitalopram) is approved to treat adolescents (ages 12 years and older) with depression. No other antidepressants have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of depression in children and adolescents. However, your child's doctor may prescribe other antidepressant medications that are approved for use in adults. This is referred to as off-label use and it is fairly common practice. Antidepressants for Anxiety Three SSRIs have FDA-approval for use in children and adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). While these SSRIs are approved by the FDA to treat OCD in children, they are not approved for pediatric non-OCD anxiety. Luvox (fluvoxamine): Approved for children age 8 and older Prozac (fluoxetine): Approved for children age 8 and older Zoloft (sertraline): Approved for children age 6 and older Two non-SSRI antidepressants are approved by the FDA for treating generalized anxiety disorder in children (ages 7 and older): One SNRI, Cymbalta (duloxetine), and one atypical antidepressant, Anafranil (clomipramine). Serious Side Effects The most serious potential side effect of antidepressant use in people up to age 25 is their potential to increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Though this side effect is rare, in 2004, the FDA issued a black box warning about an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors in youth who take antidepressants. If left untreated, depression can lead to a host of serious consequences, including attempted and completed suicide, addiction, and self-injury. This is why it is important to weigh the pros and cons of antidepressants. If your child has moderate to severe depression, the benefit of using an antidepressant will usually outweigh the risks of potential side effects. Signs of Suicidal Thoughts in Children Warning signs of suicidal thoughts may not be very obvious, which is why you need to watch your child closely when she first starts on an antidepressant or whenever her dosage is changed. Warning signs may include: Aggressive or hostile behaviorAnxiety or restlessnessA change in personality (from upbeat to quiet)Expressions of hopelessness about the future (e.g., "You won't have to worry about me anymore")Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, or self-hatredFrequent statements or social media posts about self-harm or suicide (e.g., "I wish I were dead")Giving away belongingsNeglecting personal appearancePreoccupation with death in conversation, writing, or drawingRisk-taking behavior (e.g., substance use, reckless driving, and sexual promiscuity)Running away from homeSleep, appetite, or energy changesWithdrawal from friends and family If you see any of these signs in your child, particularly if they are new or noticeably worse than before, be sure to talk to your doctor as soon as possible. If your child is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. A Word From Verywell In general, antidepressants are safe and effective to treat depression and anxiety in children and teenagers, especially when combined with psychotherapy. Also, keep in mind that antidepressant use is often temporary and may just be needed for a short time. If your child has mild depression, psychotherapy may be all they need to help their symptoms improve. However, if the depression is severe or not responding to psychotherapy, an antidepressant may be needed to help your child live the best and most fulfilling life they can. If you have concerns and questions, be sure to discuss them with a mental health professional. 7 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. American Psychological Association. Clinical practice guideline for the treatment of depression across three age cohorts American Psychological Association Guideline Development Panel for the treatment of depressive disorders. Published February 16, 2019. Nischal A, Tripathi A, Nischal A, Trivedi JK. Suicide and antidepressants: what current evidence indicates. Mens Sana Monogr. 2012;10(1):33–44. doi:10.4103/0973-1229.87287 Walkup JT. Antidepressant efficacy for depression in children and adolescents: industry- and NIMH-funded studies. Am J Psychiatry. 2017;174(5):430–437. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.16091059 Krebs G, Heyman I. Obsessive-compulsive disorder in children and adolescents. Arch Dis Child. 2015;100(5):495–499. doi:10.1136/archdischild-2014-306934 Friedman RA. Antidepressants’ black-box warning--10 years later. N Engl J Med. 2014;371(18):1666-1668. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1408480 Dilillo D, Mauri S, Mantegazza C, Fabiano V, Mameli C, Zuccotti GV. Suicide in pediatrics: epidemiology, risk factors, warning signs and the role of the pediatrician in detecting them. Ital J Pediatr. 2015;41:49. doi:10.1186/s13052-015-0153-3 Mullen S. Major depressive disorder in children and adolescents. Ment Health Clin. 2018;8(6):275–283. doi:10.9740/mhc.2018.11.275 By Leonard Holmes, PhD Leonard Holmes, PhD, is a pioneer of the online therapy field and a clinical psychologist specializing in chronic pain and anxiety. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Depression Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.