Parents urged to heed more than labels on antidepressants — (Chicago Sun-Times)

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Chicago Sun-Times

October 12, 2004

BY MARTHA IRVINE

Shauna Murphy thinks it’s a smart idea to put warning labels on antidepressants. She has good reason. Nine years ago, at age 10, she was put on a particular brand of the medication and, shortly after, tried to kill herself.

It’s the kind of outcome that has prompted the Food and Drug Administration to begin work on writing ”black box” warnings — the strongest caution possible — for young people who take antidepressants. Some parents have already taken their children off the drugs.

But even with the troubles they’ve had, Murphy and her parents are not speaking out against antidepressants. Instead, they are among a number of families, doctors and mental health groups who — worried the warning labels might stop some people from seeking treatment — are taking the opportunity to encourage families to get help for young people with depression and other mental health issues.

They are particularly focused on teaching parents to monitor their children and figure out which treatment works for a particular child, whether it be therapy, medication or both.

Guidelines in the works

”It’s a real process and a matter of educating yourself as a parent,” says Cheryl Murphy, Shauna’s mother and leader of the southern Nevada chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. She found that it took two years and more than one doctor to find a treatment that helped her daughter. Eventually, Shauna was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which causes moods to fluctuate between periods of depression and high-energy mania. She now takes an antipsychotic medication.

”The medication I’m on is working quite well,” says Shauna, now 19 and living with her parents in Las Vegas.

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, a Chicago-based organization with chapters nationwide, provides monitoring tips on its Web site.

In response to the warning-label issue, Massachusetts-based Families for Depression Awareness also is working on a ”depression monitoring tool” that will provide guidelines to help parents and patients track symptoms.

Note mood changes

Mental health experts who specialize in young people agree that monitoring a child on treatment is key, as is a thorough evaluation.

Dr. Bela Sood, who heads the division of adolescent psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University, says signs that a medication isn’t working might include heightened aggressiveness, unusually bold behavior or a feeling that ”you’re crawling out of your skin.”

During an evaluation, she also asks young patients directly if they have thought about suicide.

”There’s this myth that if you suggest suicide to a kid that you might turn someone into someone who’s considering suicide, and that’s wrong,” says Sood, who’s noted that parents often have no idea their children have considered killing themselves.

It’s a lot for parents to think about. And Toni Embrey, a parent who lives on Chicago’s West Side, knows how difficult it can be.

She is raising three grandchildren and also has adopted three of her niece’s children. Four of the six are on medication of one sort or another, from stimulants used to treat hyperactivity to antipsychotics and antidepressants. Several of the children go to counseling.

”It can be hard to keep track of it all,” Embrey says as she spreads the children’s pill boxes on her coffee table. ”But I have to look at what it does for them on a daily basis.” AP