How is childhood depression treated?

Treatment options for children with depression are similar to those for adults and include psychotherapy (counseling), medication, or a combination of the two. The severity of symptoms often guides the mental health professional in making a particular recommendation for your child. For example, if symptoms are mild, your child's doctor may suggest psychotherapy first, and consider antidepressant medicine as an additional option if there is no major improvement over the next few months.

Although many antidepressants are routinely used in treating children with depression, the two FDA-approved medications are fluoxetine (Prozac®) for ages 8 and older and escitalopram (Lexapro®) for ages 12 and older. Antidepressants must be used with caution, however, as some individuals may have no improvement or feel worse (i.e., more suicidal than when they started taking the medication).

Additional notes about antidepressant medications:

  • Different children can react differently to the same drug.
  • It is important to avoid potentially harmful drug interactions, such as with cold or asthma medications.
  • If the doctor prescribes antidepressant medication for your child, you need to watch the child's condition closely. Parents should clarify with the physician the goals and limitations that can be expected from a particular medication. Further, parents should be familiar with common and serious potential side effects.
  • No patient should suddenly stop taking antidepressants, because this may cause side effects such as agitation or increased depression.
  • Since suicidal thoughts often go with depression, guns should be removed from the home and large quantities of medications (including over-the-counter drugs) should be locked away.

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