December 4, 2013

About 6% of teens taking psychiatric medications

Depression and ADHD are the most common mental illnesses among adolescents, according to a study.

By Elizabeth Lopatto
Bloomberg News

About 6 percent of U.S. teenagers report using a psychiatric medicine, such as an antidepressant or attention-deficit treatment, as drug therapy for the conditions remains steady, a government survey found.

click image to enlarge

This 2001 file photo shows methylphenidate pills, a generic form of the drug Ritalin. About 6 percent of U.S. teenagers report using a psychiatric medicine, such as an antidepressant or attention-deficit treatment, as the rate of drug use for such conditions levels off.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Boys were more likely than girls to be given stimulant medications such as Ritalin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to the report Wednesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Girls were more likely to use antidepressants. Drugs for ADHD and antidepressants were the most-common medicines used by the 12- to 19-year-olds surveyed from 2005 to 2010.

The research is similar to an analysis of a 1999-2004 survey, which found about 6.8 percent of teens reported using a psychotropic drug, said Bruce Jonas, a study author and researcher at the National Center for Health Statistics. From 1988-1994, about 1 percent of children received these medications, though those numbers are less reliable, because fewer children were surveyed, he said.

“In the last 10 years, it has leveled off,” Jonas said. “After the initial jump, it’s been steady.”

The reasons for the jump weren’t in the report, though Jonas suggested they may be due to more awareness of mental illness among teens, and the advent of new treatments for ADHD and depression.

Depression and ADHD are the most-common mental illnesses among adolescents, according to Wednesday’s study. Not enough data were available on treatments other than drugs, such as psychotherapy, to say how widely they were used. The teens were asked whether they had used the medications within the previous six months of the survey. About half of those who reported using the drugs had seen a mental health professional within the past year, according to the survey.

Whites were most likely to report the use of psychotropic drugs, with 8 percent of the adolescents in the sample saying they’d taken them. Most of those surveyed were taking no more than one psychiatric drug, according to the report.

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