The pressure to raise healthy, happy children into healthy, happy adults is enormous, and the toll is showing on today's parents. It is showing up in the rate at which parents are relying on prescription anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs to smooth over the bumps and roadblocks of child rearing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that one in ten adults in the United States reports being depressed. Forty million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders.
The symptoms of depression: fatigue, pessimism, lack of energy, insomnia, lack of interest, restlessness and irritability read like a laundry list of the possible side effects of twenty-first century parenting. With constant worries over appropriate development, maximizing educational opportunities, and maintaining good health and safety, even on the best days, parenting is a job with serious stress attached.
Increasingly, parents are turning to their doctor's prescription pads for help in dealing with that stress. According toanalysis by Express Scripts, more than one in five American adults now take at least one type of medication to treat a psychological or behavioral disorder, a 22% rise since 2001. Additionally, the number of women taking these types of medications increased by 29% between the years of 2001 and 2010. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which provides data to the federal government, reports that antidepressants are the third most common medication taken by Americans today.
With such significant numbers emerging, the question naturally arises as to the effects of both the disorders themselves, and the medications used to treat them, on the lives of our nation's most precious and vulnerable population, our kids. The National Academy of Science reports that 16 million children currently live in households with a parent who suffers from major or severe depression. Being cared for by parents with untreated depression can have serious consequences on the child's development, including increased incidences of poor physical health, especially in infants, difficult temperament and aggression, lower cognitive performance, and higher rates of anxiety and depression. With the stakes so high, many parents see their use of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications as another step toward protecting their children's best interests, as well as towards increasing their own well-being.
Jenn Berman, a licensed psychotherapist in Beverly Hills and author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids, equates this practice to emergency procedures on an airline flight. "You know how on an airplane the flight attendant says to put on your own oxygen mask first, then your child's? That applies here," Berman says. "It's really hard for moms to put their well-being first, but they have to help themselves before they can help their children and families."
Although many professionals in the psychological and psychiatric fields prefer their patients use antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications in combination with more conventional talk therapy, the economic pressures under which today's parents are working have increased the number of parents using the medications alone. For many, they simply cannot afford the expense or the time to pursue traditional methods of working out the issues underlying their depression or anxiety, and rather than exposing their children to the effects of their disorders, they medicate the symptoms.
Parenthood has never been a task well-suited to the faint of heart; it is hard, demanding and frequently draining work. With the pressures of our modern lives compounding around us, the question of whether to use antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications requires a parent to carefully weigh all of the options and decide how to best serve their family's needs. And of course, no matter what the situation in which a parent finds themselves, these medications should only be used under the supervision of a trusted doctor.
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis, Appleton and Favaloro personal injury law firm, whose attorneys work out of offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, Eastern Shore Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service.