Feb 27, 2024 - Health

Antidepressant prescribing for youths surged during COVID

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Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios

Antidepressant prescribing to youths rose 63.5% during the pandemic, with adolescent girls accounting for some of the sharpest increases, according to new research in Pediatrics.

Why it matters: It's further evidence of a youth mental health crisis characterized by depression and anxiety brought on by social isolation, concern about the future and financial and other stressors.

  • But a shortage of mental health workers and the shift toward telehealth and remote prescribing may have contributed to a prioritization of drug treatments over therapy.

What they found: The monthly antidepressant dispensing rate for females ages 12-17 surged 129.6% from March 2020 onward compared with beforehand, the University of Michigan-led study concluded.

  • The rate rose 56.5% for women between the ages of 18 and 25.
  • But dispensing among male adolescents declined abruptly during March 2020 and did not bounce back.
  • Researchers said it's likely that young males received care less often, not that their mental health improved during the pandemic.

Between the lines: The findings point to the need for more interventions for youths, including expanding insurance coverage, since young adults have the highest rates of uninsurance of any age group, researchers said.

  • But the insurance claims data the researchers analyzed didn't allow them to make conclusions about how much dispensing varied according to whether patients were privately or publicly insured.
  • It's also unclear how much the trend lines can be generalized past the end of the pandemic. Researchers noted factors like the ongoing purge of Medicaid rolls potentially disrupting antidepressant therapy among Medicaid-insured young adults.
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