Many parents are concerned about how a new long term medication will affect their teenager, especially in the first few weeks. It’s reassuring to think about how antidepressants will improve the life of a depressed or anxious teenager, but those effects don’t appear right away. Here’s a guide on how to monitor your teen during those first few weeks of transitioning before the antidepressants kick in.
Watch Out for Worsening Symptoms
First and foremost, parents should be aware that one of the side effects of a new antidepressant is worse anxiety or depression, including suicidal thoughts. It seems unusual that the medication would have the opposite effect of what it’s prescribed for, but research indicates that it happens in children and teens more often than in adults. To make sure your teen isn’t one of the few who are negatively affected by their new medicine, it would be a good idea to keep an eye out for any unusual changes in behavior. Increased anxiety or suicidal ideation can manifest itself in anger, isolation, or insomnia. If your teen is suddenly throwing fits, hiding from the world, or having trouble with their sleep, there might be serious implications. If you notice these changes in the first few weeks, you should report them to your teen’s psychiatrist right away.
Physical Side Effects
Most antidepressants come with a long list of potential physical side effects that you should look out for as a parent. Some of the common side effects are digestive problems, nausea, dizziness, weight gain, dry mouth, headaches, sedation, and sexual problems like lower sex drive and the inability to achieve orgasm. You should know that if your teen is experiencing any of these side effects, they usually go away after the first few weeks. However, if they persist, we recommend you talk with your teen about whether or not the benefits outweigh the cons. If it’s not worth it, you might want to talk to your teen’s psychiatrist about tapering off the medication and starting a trial on a new antidepressant. Everyone’s body is different and it might take a few tries to find a medication that is a good fit, but don’t get discouraged if you don’t find a perfect match on the first try.
Keep Them on Schedule
One of the best ways to watch out for your teen who is starting antidepressants is to make sure they are taking their medication regularly. A lot of antidepressants require a gradual increase in dose to reduce the chance of side effects until your teen arrives at the ideal therapeutic level. It’s important to check in with your teen to make sure they are increasing their dosage at the right pace and not missing doses so the medicine doesn’t cause any undesired effects. Plus, forgetting to take the medication for a few days might mean that your teen has to restart the dose back at a low level again, meaning it will take even longer for their depression or anxiety symptoms to start improving.
Some reminders you can use include posting notes in a visible place like the bathroom mirror. You might want to write down an inspirational quote along with a friendly reminder for your teen to take their meds. Another is using apps on your teen’s smart phone to set alarms for their medication schedule. You could also check in at the end of the week for a progress report on how often your teen is taking their medication to remind them to be more responsible.
Don’t Let Your Teen Rely on Meds Alone
We think it’s very important to teach your teen that antidepressants won’t magically cure everything, so watch out if your teen is depending on the medicine instead of actively making other lifestyle changes. Medication is more like training wheels that make solving psychological problems a little easier. If your teen decides to rely solely on medication, they could be missing out on developing lifestyle changes such as getting more exercise, socializing more, or improving time management that can also boost their mood. To best help your teen get over their depression and anxiety symptoms, we recommend that they start taking to a therapist in addition to starting the medication. A therapist can help your teen talk through complex problems and come up with helpful solutions so your teen can use medication as one of many self-improvement tools instead of a single crutch.
Signs of Improvement
As a parent concerned about your teen’s mental health, you are probably looking out for signs of improvement. Many of the positive effects of the medication don’t appear in the first few weeks, it could honestly take a month or two for the desired effects to kick in. This is an important perspective because you and your teen shouldn’t feel like the medication is useless if it’s taking a while to make a noticeable difference. Although, slight effects might start to appear within two weeks’ time. We think you should pay attention to small changes like laughing more often or having a little bit more optimism because sharing those changes with your teen can help them to keep up with their regimen.
Thanks for Looking Out
The transition that comes with starting a new medication presents a few challenges to your teenager like potential side effects or a feeling that it’s taking too long to start working. As a responsible parent, you now know what exactly to look for to make sure that your teen is on the right path to improvement. Even if it’s tough at the beginning, remember to encourage your teen that it will get better.