Depression Treatment Cautions About the Use of SSRIs and Other Antidepressants in Teenagers By Barbara Poncelet Barbara Poncelet Barbara Poncelet, CRNP, is a certified pediatric nurse practitioner specializing in teen health. Learn about our editorial process Updated on April 01, 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 martin-dm / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Effectiveness in Teens Potential Adverse Effects Suicide Risk What to Watch For Next Steps When a teen has depression, counseling and antidepressants are often offered as options for treatment, especially if the depression is considered moderate or severe. If your teen is prescribed an antidepressant such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), it's normal to have questions about how it works and whether it's safe. It's important for you and your family to be educated about an antidepressant so you can help your teen understand the benefits and potential adverse effects (and how to manage them). An Overview of Teen Depression Effectiveness in Teens Antidepressants are there to help with the uncomfortable, disturbing, and even disabling symptoms of depression. Antidepressants can improve your teen's mood, appetite, sleep, ability to focus, and may even relieve the physical aches and pains that sometimes come with depression. These medications also help treat anxiety symptoms. Most importantly, because depression can lead to suicide, it is extremely important to effectively treat teens with depression who are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Antidepressants may be most effective if your teen is also working with a therapist or psychiatrist. During counseling, your teen will learn coping skills to help deal with life's stressors. Your teen will also explore the possible causes of depression and talk about issues they may not feel comfortable disclosing to friends or family. A mental health professional can be a wonderful ally for the parents of a teen with depression. These professionals have a wealth of information and resources about the disorder and can provide invaluable insight into the best way to treat it. The Dangers of Untreated Depression in Teens Potential Adverse Effects All medications have side effects. If your physician or psychiatrist suggests an antidepressant, you'll walk to ask about the specific drug's common side effects. One of the most commonly prescribed classes of antidepressants for adolescent depression is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). While these medications can be safe and effective, they can have side effects: Nausea Diarrhea Insomnia Sedation Headaches Dry mouth Dizziness Weight gain Sexual side effects With many antidepressants, the side effects are mild and temporary. When your teen is first starting a medication, it's important for them to know that the physical discomfort is likely to get better soon. Although not necessarily a drawback, it is important for parents and teens to know that the medications do not work instantly. It can take, on average, four to six weeks for the full effect of antidepressants to be felt. Just like it takes time for the side effects to improve, it also takes some time for the medication to fully work. Discussing how antidepressants work with your teen ahead of time will help you both avoid disappointment when your child's depression doesn't immediately get better. Suicide Risk The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautions that young adults between the ages of 18 to 24 who are taking an antidepressant may be at risk for an increase in suicidal thoughts and actions. The risk has been noted at the beginning and through the first few months of treatment. The agency requested that drug manufacturers indicate this risk with a warning on the package inserts for the medications they make (called a black box warning). Parents, caregivers, and professionals need to watch for a potential increase in suicidal thinking and behavior in children and teens taking antidepressants. 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. Can Antidepressants Make You Feel Worse? What to Watch For Your teen is an individual in many ways—from their sense of style to personality to hobbies. They are also unique in how they will respond to an antidepressant. While many teens do not experience an increase in suicidal thoughts, it is possible. The FDA recommends looking for the following warning signs which may indicate your teen is considering suicide or deteriorating psychologically: Expression of new or persistent thoughts of suicide Worsening depression Anxiety Agitation Feelings of restlessness (akathisia) Panic attacks Insomnia New or worsening irritability Aggressive behavior Hostility or impulsivity Unusual changes in behavior Hypomania or mania Becoming familiar with these signs and staying involved and alert is especially important during the first few months of treatment, as well as when changes are made to your teen's treatment plan (such as an increase or decrease in dose, addition of new medications, discontinuation of medications, or a change in medication). If you notice these signs or your teen brings any of them to your attention, it is imperative that you contact your teen's physician, psychiatrist, or counselor immediately. Next Steps If your teen has depression, it is important for you and your teen to discuss the pros and cons of antidepressant use with your teen's physician. Teens need to take their antidepressants exactly as their doctor prescribes them, usually daily. Tell your teen's doctor if your child is taking any other medications or supplements, as they may interact with antidepressants. You and your teen should also know that antidepressant medications should never be stopped abruptly. If your teen suddenly stops taking their antidepressant, they may experience symptoms of withdrawal. If you or your teen think it's time to change medications or alter the dose, talk to your teen's doctor about tapering off the medication gradually. A Word From Verywell Teens with depression may have difficulty sleeping, issues related to eating, and problems at school or with friends. For some teens, antidepressant medications may be able to help. When making a choice about treatment, you and your family need to become familiar with the benefits and drawbacks of these medications so you can make an informed decision. Depression can have serious, even deadly, consequences—but early recognition, intervention, and treatment can help your whole family recovery. Antidepressants and counseling can make a big difference to a teen who is depressed, as well as offer your family with information and strategies for coping. How to Help Your Depressed Teenager 6 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. Oberlander TF, Miller AR. Antidepressant Use in Children and Adolescents: Practice Touch Points to Guide Paediatricians. Paediatr Child Health. 2011 Nov; 16(9):549-53. doi:10.1093/pch/16.9.549 DeFilippis M, Wagner KD. Management of treatment-resistant depression in children and adolescents. Paediatr Drugs. 2014;16(5):353–361. doi:10.1007/s40272-014-0088-y Jane Garland E, Kutcher S, Virani A, Elbe D. Update on the Use of SSRIs and SNRIs with Children and Adolescents in Clinical Practice. J Can Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2016;25(1):4–10. Santarsieri D, Schwartz TL. Antidepressant efficacy and side-effect burden: a quick guide for clinicians. Drugs Context. 2015;4:212290. Published 2015 Oct 8. doi:10.7573/dic.212290 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Suicidality in Children and Adolescents Being Treated With Antidepressant Medications. Hussain H, Dubicka B, Wilkinson P. Recent developments in the treatment of major depressive disorder in children and adolescents. Evid Based Ment Health. 2018;21(3):101–106. doi:10.1136/eb-2018-102937 Additional Reading Brent D, Poling K, Goldstein T. Treating Depressed and Suicidal Adolescents. New York: Guilford Press; 2011:37-42. Johnston H, Fruehling J. Handbook of Depression in Children and Adolescents. (Reynolds W, ed.). New York: Springer Science & Business Media; 2013:365-369. By Barbara Poncelet Barbara Poncelet, CRNP, is a certified pediatric nurse practitioner specializing in teen health. 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.