Millennials deal with depression

Roxanne Ardekani, Staff

The use of antidepressants is both a common and controversial necessity for many Americans. In the United States alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 11 percent of Americans use antidepressants to deal with symptoms associated with clinical depression.  

University of New Orleans professor Gerald J. Lahoste said, “Many people underestimate the lethality of depression. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in Americans between the ages of 15 and 24.”

Depression is a serious mental disorder that affects 350 million people worldwide with 16 million of those being affected in the United States. One in 33 children and one in 8 adolescents have clinical depression. Depression is the cause of over two-thirds of the 30,000 reported suicides in the United States each year. Untreated depression is the number one risk for suicide among youth, which is people between the ages 15 and 24.

Some professionals see the use of antidepressants in children and adolescents as dangerous, further complicating the treatment of depression. In 2004, the FDA began putting Black Box Warnings on antidepressants. These are strongest warnings the FDA uses, and they require drug companies to create medication guides to accompany the drugs. Current guides include warnings that antidepressants may have several side effects, including increased thoughts of suicide in younger patients. Defining depression and treating it is still widely misunderstood and often stigmatized.

Depression can cause severe symptoms that may affect many aspects of daily life. Though much has been written about the subject, there is not a consensus regarding treatment, and some experts continue to point to the dangers of not recognizing its severity.

“I remember feeling very aggressive and suicidal before I was on medication…I really hated how my life was, though there was no particular reason I should have,” describes one freshman of her diagnosed depression.

Depression and the use of antidepressants have been controversial topics for quite some time, especially for younger adults, teens, and children.

Sonia Lynne Rubens, an assistant professor who works in the Child and Adolescent Resilience (CARe) lab at UNO, explained, “Although the overall presentation of depression is similar in adults and children, symptoms of depression may look different depending on the age of the person, and may be influenced by cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development.” Because there is no  proven way to treat teenagers and children with depression, the hunt for an answer continues.

“The Lancet,” a well-respected medical journal, recently released studies that raised the question, “Should children, teens, and young adults be taking antidepressants?” Studies showed that only Prozac, 1 antidepressant out of the 14 tested, showed any benefits. The journal also noted that many trials were funded by drug companies, raising questions regarding the reliability results. Given the seriousness of depression, many psychologists still agree that antidepressants are necessary in some cases, but they also recommend therapy to go along with the use of the medication.

“Depression makes you see things differently, and I definitely saw things for the worse. Taking antidepressants as well as seeing my therapist really helps combat all that. I was put straight on medication from the beginning, but finding the right kind took some time. Once I did, it was kind of like putting on glasses and my brain could finally process images and experiences clearly. It was slow at first; there was no instant change in the beginning, or ever, for that matter. Even now, depression is still something that affects me every day of my life and may continue to affect me forever. However, for me, taking antidepressants was the first step in a very long journey of recovery. With the clarity it gave me, I began to feel earnestly about improving my mood. It’s not as if the medication changed me as much as it enabled me to change myself,” described a student.

Lahoste said, “The data on treatment outcome consistently shows that a combination of pharmacotherapy and cognitive therapy leads to the best outcome.” All medications come with side effects, but Lahoste highlights the importance of antidepressants and the consequences of diminishing the use of them, seen after the 2004 Black Box Warning.

“Unfortunately, warning labels were put on antidepressant medications in the early 2000s based on mostly anecdotal evidence that some currently used antidepressants could cause suicide. As a result, in the years that followed, prescriptions written for antidepressants decreased and suicide increased. Many investigators believe there is a causal link between under medication and the increased suicide that resulted from these warning labels.”