Talk Therapy May Help Teens who Refuse to Take Medication when Depressed


Typically, when a teen has a diagnosis of depression, they may be given an anti-depressant. Antidepressants are used to treat not only moderate to severe depression in teens, but also other psychological disorders such Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Antidepressants can also address the painful mood states that some with personality disorders experience.


In fact, often mental health professionals will use both medication and therapy as a way to help a teen overcome the challenges of the mental illness. For instance, the medication can alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms, while the therapy can help a teen identify unhealthy thinking patterns, make better choices, and use healthy coping tools. Typically, it is the combination of medication and therapy combined that is most effective when treating mental illness in teens.


However, if teens are unwilling to take their medication, then they may not be able to appropriately manage the symptoms they’re experiencing. And many teens refuse to take psychotropic medication for the following reasons:


1. Suicidal Thinking. Antidepressants work well because they adjust the chemicals in the brain. Antidepressants affect the levels of dopamine and serotonin, which influence mood stability. There are various forms of antidepressants that affect the brain in different ways. However, in the past decade, there has been some concern that the use of antidepressant medications may induce suicidal behavior in youths. And in October of 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about the increased risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior (suicide attempts) in children and adolescents treated with SSRI antidepressant medications.


2. Weight Gain. Most teens are concerned about their appearances. If they’re taking medication that makes them gain weight, they might feel less likely to fit in with their friends. Weight gain might affect their self-esteem and even their friendships.


3. Fatigue. Most teens want to do well in school. They want to have the energy to do all that their friends are doing, such as doing well academically while playing sports while also having time for friends and going out. If a teen feels tired, it may limit their ability to do all that they want to do.



If your teen is refusing to take medication for these and other reasons, talk therapy alone might help. One study explored just how effective therapy might be without the use of medication. The study found that those teens who refused to take their medication but who were willing to participate in therapy were more likely to recover from depression versus those who didn’t participate in therapy, or any form of treatment.


During adolescence as many as 10% to 15% of teens experience depression. And of these, only 30% get the support they need. Furthermore, of those who do get treatment only 50% actually agree to take medication. And even then, many teens decide not to continue to take the medication.


If you are a parent of a teen struggling with depression, encourage your teen to participate in individual therapy. Even if your adolescent refuses to take medication, at least therapy can help your child stay happy and healthy.