Jun 8, 2023 - Health

Kids with anxiety likelier to be prescribed drugs than therapy

Illustration of a turn over pill bottle the pills forming an upward trending arrow

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As anxiety disorder diagnoses surged in kids and young adults between 2006 and 2018, doctors were more likely to opt for drug treatments over therapy, a new study in Pediatrics found.

Why it matters: Federal health agencies like the CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recommend a combination of the two, but cost and health workforce barriers strain access to adequate treatment.

Details: Researchers reviewed data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, which examines at office-based visits, and broke it down by time period, changes in anxiety disorder diagnosis and treatment type.

  • Treatment categories include only therapy, only medication, a combination of both or neither.
  • The overall proportion of office visits with an anxiety disorder diagnosis tripled from 1.4% in the 2006 to 2009 time period to 4.2% in 2014 to 2018.
  • While there was no significant change in medication use, the proportion of visits with any therapy fell from 48.8% to 32.6% in that same time frame.

The big picture: The youth mental health crisis has not gotten better, prompting a federal task force last fall to recommend children ages 8 and up be screened for anxiety.

  • But anxiety medication is often cheaper than the average therapy session, which can range from $100 to more than $200, while the most popular drugs for anxiety hover around $10.
Go deeper