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Mental Health Center

More Than 6 Percent of U.S. Teens Take Psychiatric Meds: Survey

ADHD, depression most common conditions reported by those on medication
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A mental-health expert not involved with the new study cautioned that psychiatric drugs are not a cure-all.

"Using psychiatric medication is always a serious thing. You want to do it carefully and not use them inappropriately," said Dr. Glenn Saxe, chair of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. "If a parent is concerned that their child may have a mental health problem, see your pediatrician and get their advice."

The next step, Saxe said, may be a thorough evaluation by a mental health professional. "It is important that there is no other explanation for the problem or symptoms and to explore all treatment options, not just medication," he said. Other conditions may respond better to other types of therapy either with or without medication, explained Saxe, who is also director of the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Of those teens taking a single psychiatric medication in the survey, roughly one-half had seen a mental health professional during the past year, the findings showed. Saxe noted that many pediatricians are adept at handling common mental health problems in adolescents and children.

The survey showed that white teens were much more likely to be taking a psychiatric drug when compared to blacks or Mexican-Americans, 8.2 percent versus 3.1 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively. "I thought there would be differences, but I was surprised by the magnitude," study author Jonas said. This gap may be due to lack of access to health care or other economic issues.

Location may also play a role, another mental-health expert said.

"Where I practice, minority children are the majority because we are housed in a major urban area that is easily accessible by many types of transportation," said Dr. Rose Alvarez-Salvat, a child psychologist at Miami Children's Hospital.

She is hopeful that other cities and states will soon catch up and help bridge this divide. "Most parents will know when there is something going on with their child," Alvarez-Salvat said. "They just need to be vigilant and be proactive and seek out resources in their area."

The findings are published in the December issue of the CDC's NCHS Data Brief.

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