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Rethinkingthe use of antidepressantsin teenagers

Many doctors and families argue that depression in teenagers presents a far greater danger than the medicines that treat it.

For Sherri Walton, family life improved enormously after her two oldest daughters, Jordan and Katie, started taking the antidepressant Prozac to treat bad behavior caused by depression and other emotional problems.

"It's given my girls back their lives — allowed them to be successful and allowed the family to be successful," says Walton.

A recent study found that doctors write more than 10 million prescriptions a year for antidepressants for adolescents like the Walton girls — that's more than triple the number a decade ago — and families often say the kids get better.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the Food and Drug Administration re-analyzed 25 studies of nine antidepressant medications used in adolescents, and found an association between the drugs and thoughts of suicide.

But there is a big debate within the FDA and among doctors on just what the finding means. Many experts emphasize that there is no evidence of more actual suicide among teens taking the drugs — only that adolescents talk more often about thoughts of suicide.

Dr. Melvin Oatis, a pediatrician and child psychiatrist, says such talk could actually be evidence that depressed teens are getting healthier.

"If a child is reporting to you they are having thoughts of suicide, it does not necessarily mean they are getting worse in the course of treatment," says Oatis. "It may indicate that child is drawing more closely to the person that is treating them and they're actually able to express more openly what's going on with them."

Still, Oatis agrees it is critical to continue studying the use of the medications in adolescents. "I think there is going to be more investigation to prove they are actually safe and effective," he adds.

Meanwhile, many doctors and families like the Walton's argue that depression in teenagers presents a far greater danger than the medicines that treat it.