Antidepressant and Stimulant Use in US Kids

Psychotropic drugs are used as much as 3 times more often in the United States than in the European countries.

There’s an interesting study just published in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health journal comparing psychotropic drug use for the treatment of children and teens in the United States, the Netherlands, and Germany during the year 2000. In general, the researchers found that psychotropic drugs are used as much as 3 times more often in the United States than in the European countries, and they discuss possible reasons for this discrepancy. If you’d like to read the entire article, it is posted with open internet access.

Honestly, the overall results didn’t surprise me a whole lot, given the differences in diagnostic criteria and the fact that our medical community is more likely to use two or more medications in the treatment of mental health disorders. But when you look at our use of medications that are considered controversial in kids — like antidepressants and stimulants – the differences between the United States and the European countries were even more marked, with the United States using these types of drugs 4 or more times more frequently.

Even though the investigators offer a variety of explanations for consideration, my initial reaction after reading the article is still “ouch.”

Maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be more active mental health issues percolating for kids right now. I realize that several studies suggest that diagnoses such as depression and ADHD in children are on the rise, and that some researchers think this may be a result of heightened public awareness as much as any other factor.

Still, I have to wonder about our country in general with respect to the state of mental health, given all of the stressors Americans endure on a daily basis that just plain weren’t factors 15 years ago. Think about it. The majority of children in primary school probably don’t remember the time before there was a “war on terror.” Many of them don’t remember when their parents weren’t worried about job security or money. High school kids don’t remember when the world wasn’t interconnected 24 X 7 via the internet and cell phone.

We know that children are sensitive their parents and the world around them, and that this can translate into challenges in mood and attention. As a healthcare professional, are you seeing apparent reactions to stress now among your patients?