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Antidepressants can save lives

My View • One family finds medication is the best medicine

Last week was National Suicide Prevention Week. Earlier this month, a study was released documenting an increase in teenage suicides since October 2003, when the Food and Drug Administration put “black box” warnings on antidepressants for children. Ironically, it was during that same month in 2003 that my young daughter first started taking antidepressants and our family became convinced that proper medication can be a lifesaver. My daughter was just starting third grade. Instead of thinking about her schoolwork and friends, she obsessed about ways to commit suicide. She would dutifully report to me her scary thoughts: “I’m thinking about jumping out of the car,” “I’m thinking about strangling myself with the seat belt.” Some days, the thoughts came to her in such rapid succession that she couldn’t tell me fast enough. Her psychiatrist put her on medication right away and within the first month, the symptoms subsided. It took a bit of experimentation to find the right combination of medications, but after six months, she was virtually symptom-free. She’s been that way ever since. My daughter comes by her mental illness honestly. She inherited obsessive-compulsive disorder from me. OCD is an anxiety disorder that causes you to focus on your worst fear and obsess about it until it is hard to concentrate on anything else. Not surprisingly, depression usually is closely followed by anxiety. All four of my daughter’s grandparents suffered from anxiety and depression. And almost everyone in our sprawling family is taking medication for their mental illness. For our family, the medication is as restorative and necessary as insulin is for diabetics. However, my daughter’s new psychiatrist would like to take my daughter off her medication. She says that since the FDA put warnings on antidepressants, the trend in our health maintenance organization — and in child psychiatry — is to try to get kids off medication within a year. I have to remind her that my daughter’s OCD is potentially life-threatening and that her lack of symptoms is a sign that the medication works. I had my first episode of OCD at 12. My hormones were just awakening; my pubescent OCD had me compulsively stepping on cracks in New York City sidewalks to avert imagined catastrophes. It was hard to get anywhere when the OCD was raging. If I could, I would fly back in time with some bottles of antidepressants to the far branches of my family tree. I’d start with myself and drop a few bottles of antidepressants into my 1970s bell-bottom pockets. I’d put my arm around myself and say, “Go ahead, Sara. Trust me. You’re going to feel a lot better.” I’m heartbroken that the number of children committing suicide has gone up since the FDA put the warnings on antidepressants for children. But I’m not surprised. It still may take some time for scientists to verify a causal link between the implementation of the warnings and the recent increase in suicides among children. The very least we can do is make sure our loved ones are receiving the most effective treatment for their illness. In our family, we’ve found medication is the best treatment. Antidepressants really can save lives. Sara Kirschenbaum lives in Southeast Portland.