Antidepressant Use Surging in Young People

Prescriptions up 66% since 2016, particularly among girls and young women
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 3, 2024 6:50 AM CST
Antidepressant Use Surging in Young People
   (Getty / callum redgrave-close)

A new study in published in the journal Pediatrics found that antidepressant prescriptions for tweens, teens, and young adults have been on the uptick since 2016, rising 66% through 2022. Pharma News Intelligence reports that the researchers analyzed data from the IQVIA Longitudinal Prescription Database, and learned that monthly dispensing rates went from 2,575.9 in January 2016 to 4,284.8 by December 2022. Notably, rates accelerated during the pandemic, particularly among girls. Here's the scoop:

  • The pandemic surge: While the trend was already upward, a surge in prescriptions was driven during pandemic quarantines, when rates suddenly rose 63.5% faster for those ages 12 to 25.
  • Two factors: Along with higher rates of depression and anxiety, NPR notes that wider access to care with remote options like telehealth could have influenced prescription rates. Also, long waitlists for therapy may have prompted more people to turn to medication.
  • Girls sought more medication: Once the pandemic hit, the monthly rate of prescriptions increased 129.6% for girls 12-17 years old, per Axios. Young women also sought more treatment, with rates increasing 57% faster for those 18-25. While rates actually decreased for boys and held steady for young men, experts warned that males dealing with depression and anxiety often turn to externalizing behaviors, like substance abuse, per PharmaNews.
  • What about social media? While the report suggests that quarantine's social isolation could factor into this surge in antidepressants, social media wasn't expressly discussed. Last year, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a report on youth mental health, noting that social media has become a main driver of depression and anxiety in young people.
  • What's next? The researchers say further research should pin down specifics in what drove this surge—if it was driven by changes in mental health, access to care, or how it is treated—and which types of intervention will be most effective.
(More siblings may come with poorer mental health.)

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