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    Mood-Altering Medications Not Overused in Teens

    Psychiatric Medications in Teens continued...

    About half the teens in the study met the criteria for a mental disorder, and 22% were classified as being severely affected by their problems.

    Despite that, only 14.1% of kids had taken any kind of psychotropic drug. The highest rates of medication use were in kids who met the criteria for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Nearly 1 in 3 kids with ADHD reported taking a psychotropic medication. About 1 in 5 had been prescribed stimulants to help manage their condition.

    In contrast, teens who were anxious, depressed, or bipolar were less likely to be prescribed a drug that could help. About 11% of teens diagnosed with an anxiety disorder were prescribed medications. About 20% of kids with depression or bipolar disorder were taking a mood-altering medication.

    The study also found that the majority of kids who had been prescribed a psychotropic drug had a mental disorder severe enough to disrupt their day-to-day lives.

    Many Kids Need Better Mental Health Care

    “Not only were they not overprescribed, one could say that this group was inadequately treated,” says Victor Fornari, MD, director of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

    Fornari, who wasn’t involved in the research, praised the study for its careful methods. He says it reflects attitudes he often sees in his own practice.

    “There’s enormous resistance. Many families, maybe 50%, refuse treatment, even when they are told their child has a psychiatric disorder,” Fornari tells WebMD.

    Health coverage may be another factor behind the lower-than-expected rates of medication use seen in teens.

    In an editorial on the study, David Rubin, MD, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, points out that many middle-class families simply can’t afford mental health care. These teens are often covered on their parents’ private insurance plans, which rarely cover mental health visits.

    “The take-home message is that as a country it should bother us that many children do not have access to the appropriate services they need, and that rates of medication use (whether high or low) are really a symptom of a mental health system that does not meet the standard of what any parent -- whether rich or poor -- would hope for their children if they were in crisis,” Rubin says.

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