Doctors commonly prescribe medication for depression in cases of adult depression. However, a safety warning issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2004 raises some concern about prescribing medication for depression in teens.

How Does Medication for Depression Work?

Researchers believe that drugs for depression work by making slight adjustments to the balance of neurochemicals and neurochemical receptors in the brain. Antidepressant drugs may adjust the levels of one or more of the following neurochemicals:

  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine (aka noradrenaline)
  • Serotonin.

Potential Risks of Teen Depression Medication

In October 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a public warning about the effects of medication for depression on children and teens. The FDA warned that adolescents who took antidepressants had a 4 percent chance of developing suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Adolescents who took a placebo (sugar pill) had a 2 percent chance of developing suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Although the FDA studied the impact of only nine drugs, they extended their warning to cover all antidepressants. In May 2007, the FDA revised their warning to include young adults up to 24 years of age.

Medication for depression is not the only risk factor for suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Other potential risk factors include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Family history of bipolar disorder
  • Previous suicide attempts.

Determining what role these may play in an adolescent on medication for depression is difficult.

Making Decisions About Teen Depression Medication

In April 2007, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that showed that the benefits of using antidepressant drugs for depression outweigh the risks for adolescents 19 years of age and younger. Nevertheless, each individual should weigh the pros and cons of using antidepressants before he or she starts taking medication for depression.

No one can be sure how a particular drug will affect an individual. Teens who take antidepressant medication are often closely monitored for signs of worsening symptoms of depression, such as:

  • Changes in behavior
  • Increased agitation or irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Suicidal thinking or behavior
  • Withdrawal from social contact.

The FDA recommends that teens who have just started a new medication for depression should visit their doctor:

  • Once every week during the first month (when side effects are most severe)
  • Every second week during the second month
  • Again after 12 weeks on medication
  • Any time questions or concerns arise.

This can help to reduce the risk of suicidal thoughts and other negative side effects from the medication.


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Mayo Clinic Staff. (2008). Antidepressants for children: Explore the pros and cons. Retrieved May 14, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic website:

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National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Antidepressant medications for children and adolescents: Information for parents and caregivers. Retrieved May 14, 2010, from the National Institute of Mental Health website:

Nemade, R., Staats Reiss, N., & Dombeck, M. (2007). Major depression and other unipolar depressions. Retrieved May 5, 2010, from the Web site:

Smith, M., & Segal, J. (n.d.). Antidepressants: What you need to know about depression medication. Retrieved May 14, 2010, from the HelpGuide website:

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2009). Understanding antidepressant medications. Retrieved May 17, 2010, from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website:

 Posted on : June 12, 2014