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Despite frequent lamentations that too many children take prescription medications that affect their minds, a new study finds that teens may actually need more mental health treatment.
The study of U.S. teenagers found that 14.2 percent of those with mental health disorders reported taking medications in the last year to treat their conditions. Additionally, less than 2.5 percent of adolescents without a mental disorder had been prescribed a medication, and most of those teens had previously had a mental or developmental disorder, according to the study.
"These findings challenge recent concerns over widespread overmedication and misuse of psychotropic medications in U.S. youth," the researchers concluded. "In fact, these data highlight the need for greater recognition and appropriate treatment of youth with mental health disorders," they wrote in their article, published Monday (Dec. 3) in the journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health used data from the National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement, in which a nationally representative sample of more than 10,000 teens ages 13 to 18 were interviewed between 2001 and 2004.
In general, teens with the most severe conditions and those at risk of suicide were more likely to report taking medications, the researchers found.
The survey also showed that, among those with mental health disorders, teens with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were the most likely to use medication, with 31 percent saying they took medication in the previous year.
About 19 percent of those with mood disorders, eating disorders or behavior disorders reported taking medication, whereas 14 percent of those with substance use disorders and 12 percent of those with anxiety disorders said the same.
"There was no compelling evidence for either misuse or overuse of psychotropic medications," the researchers said.
Despite evidence showing that antidepressants effectively treat adolescents who have major depression, and stimulants effectively treat those who have ADHD, only a small minority of teens with a depressive disorder reported taking antidepressants, and a substantial majority of adolescents with ADHD did not receive stimulants in the past year, the researchers said.
The findings suggest that mental disorders may be widely undiagnosed, and that appropriate medications may be under-prescribed among teenagers, the researchers said. Teens, especially those in certain regions, may have only limited access to specialty mental health care.
Pass it on: Teens may not be overusing medications for mental health disorders, as some studies have suggested.