Depressed children often lack energy and enthusiasm. They become withdrawn, irritable, and sulky. They may feel sad, anxious, and restless. They may have problems in school and frequently lose interest in activities they once enjoyed.
Some parents might think that medication is the solution for depression-related problem behaviors. In fact, that’s not the case. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any drugs solely for the treatment of “behavior problems.” When FDA approves a drug for depression—whether for adults or children—it is to treat the illness, not the behavior associated with it.
“There are multiple parts to mental illness, and the symptoms are usually what drug companies study and what parents worry about. But it’s rare for us at FDA to target just one part of the illness,” says Mitchell Mathis, M.D., a psychiatrist who is the director of FDA’s Division of Psychiatry Products.
Depression in children shouldn’t be left untreated. Untreated acute depression may get better on its own, but it relapses and the patient is not cured. Real improvement can take six months or more, and may not be complete without treatment. And the earlier the treatment starts, the better the outcome.
“Kids just don’t have time to leave their depression untreated,” says child and adolescent psychiatrist Tiffany R. Farchione, M.D., the Acting Deputy Director of FDA’s Division of Psychiatry Products. “The social and educational consequences of a lengthy recovery are huge. They could fail a grade. They could lose all of their friends.”