Doctor: Increase in medications prescribed for mental disorders in children, teens

Mental Health

Statistics show about 20 percent of kids have some kind of mental illness or psychiatric illness. 

That’s according to Dr. Yasas Tanguturi with the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. 

“Most of it is probably in the anxiety and depression realm,” Dr. Tanguturi told News 2. 

Better diagnosis of psychiatric conditions, more pharmaceutical research and a reduced stigma surrounding mental health are some of the reasons the doctor said there has been an increase in medications prescribed for children and teenagers in the last decade. 

“Trend wise, most of these medications are only going up,” Dr. Tanguturi said. 

The doctor breaks the medications down into three categories:  

  • Anti-depressants are the most common and treat depression and anxiety.  
  • Stimulants help with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.  
  • Antipsychotic drugs and mood stabilizers focus on bipolar, schizophrenia and more severe psychiatric issues. 

“Most medication use in kids is FDA ‘off label,’ meaning there’s still not enough trials that have been done for the FDA to approve those medications,” Dr. Tanguturi explained. 

The numbers vary for different segments of the younger population. 

For instance, a report from the Government Accountability Office showed children in foster care are prescribed antipsychotic drugs at double to quadruple the rate of those not in foster care. 

Dr. Tanguturi said black and Hispanic children are more likely to be medicated for mental illness than their white counterparts.  

“Medications are good in certain cases, but you need to use them with all of the other approaches we have for maximum benefit,” Dr. Tanguturi said. 

In agreement is adolescent medicine specialist Dr. Kristin Rager at TriStar Centennial Medical Center. 

“The most evidence-based treatment for mental health concerns in young people is therapy and medicine together,” Dr. Rager explained. “More kids and teens are getting access to care in the first place and while people might perceive that as more prescribing, it’s actually just more treatment in general.” 

Medical professionals warn that children and teens need to be watched closely while on medications that help with mental disorders. The drugs can have different effects on the younger population versus adults. 

As for the future of these pharmaceutical trends, the doctors agree that it’s nearly impossible to predict. 

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