The Mental Health Meds Teens Are Taking

Antidepressants and ADHD medications topped psychotropic medication use among teens

December 5, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) A wide range of psychotropic medications are available to treat mental health conditions, including disorders in teens. But how many teens are actually taking these medications?

A recent report found that just over 6 percent of teens were taking some kind of mental health medication.

The most commonly taken medications among teens in the US were antidepressants and medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Depression and ADHD are also the most common mental health conditions diagnosed among teens in the US.

Only a very small percentage of teens were taking antipsychotics or anti-anxiety or anti-manic medications.

"Discuss your child's mental health needs with a care provider."

This study, led by Bruce S. Jonas, PhD, of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), looked at rates of psychotropic medication use among teens in the US.

Dr. Jonas and colleagues used data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 2005 to 2010.

These researchers asked teens, aged 12 to 19, or their parents about the teens' use of five different categories of psychotropic medications.

These categories included antidepressants, ADHD medications, antipsychotics, anti-manic medications and the combined group of sedatives, hypnotics and anti-anxiety medications.

Anti-manic medications are used to treat conditions that involve mania, such as bipolar disorder. Sedatives and hypnotics are used to treat anxiety symptoms.

The researchers determined that, overall, 6.3 percent of US teens used a psychotropic medication during this time period.

About 4.5 percent took only one psychotropic medication, while 1.8 percent took two or more different psychotropic medications.

The two most common types of medications teens took were antidepressants and ADHD medications, both reported by 3.2 percent of the teens.

These findings make sense since depression and ADHD are the most common mental health conditions among teens.

The report noted that 4.3 percent of teens reported depression for at least two weeks in 2005-2006, and about 9 percent of the children aged 5 to 17 who were surveyed from 2007 to 2009 had ever been diagnosed with ADHD.

Only 1 percent of teens were taking antipsychotics, and 0.5 percent were taking sedatives, hypnotics and anti-anxiety medications.

There were too few teens taking anti-manic medications to determine an accurate percentage from the survey.

Females were more likely than males to take any kind of psychotropic medication and were more than twice as likely to take antidepressants (4.5 percent) than males (2 percent).

However, about twice as many males took ADHD medications (4.2 percent), compared to females (2.2 percent).

The researchers also looked at the racial and ethnic makeup of teens taking different kinds of psychotropic medications.

In total psychotropic medications as well as antidepressants and ADHD medications, whites were far more likely to be taking the medications than blacks or Mexican-Americans.

For example, 8.2 percent of white children were taking psychotropic medications, compared to 3.1 percent of blacks and 2.9 percent of Mexican-Americans.

The biggest difference in rates across ethnicities occurred with antidepressants: these were taken by 4.9 percent of white teens but only 0.5 percent of black teens and 0.7 percent of Mexican-Americans.

Similarly, while 4 percent of white teens were taking ADHD medications, only 2.2 percent of blacks and 1.8 percent of Mexican-Americans were.

Despite these rates of psychotropic medication use, only about half of teens who were taking these medications had seen a mental health professional in the past year.

Among teens taking more than one psychotropic medication, however, 80 percent had seen a mental health professional in the past year.

This report was published in the December issue of the National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief on the CDC website. The report was funded by the CDC. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 5, 2013
Last Updated:
December 30, 2013