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Antidepressant Prescriptions for Young Females Dramatically Increased During COVID Pandemic

antidepressant capsules

A study recently published in the journal Pediatrics found that antidepressant use in young people 12-25 years old rose 64 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic and the vast portion of this increase was seen in females. After March 2020, the rate of antidepressant prescriptions written monthly for adolescent girls 12-17 years old rose 130 percent, while young female adults 18-25 years old saw an increase of 60 percent. Antidepressant use among males stayed the same for those 18-25 years old and decreased among those 12-17 years old.1 2

The study data was culled from the IQVA Longitudinal Prescription Database, which lists prescription information from most retail U.S. pharmacies.3 Researchers analyzed prescription data from adolescents, 12-17 years old and young adults 18-25 years old from 2016 through 2022. During those six years, the database showed that 221,268,402 antidepressant prescriptions were given to 18,395,915 individuals, 64.4 percent female and 35.8 percent male.4 The monthly antidepressant prescription rate rose 66 percent overall in these age groups. This is a sharp contrast to prior to March 2020 when the antidepressant rate rose only 17 percent per month.5

The study hypothesized that the dramatic increase in antidepressant usage could be due to higher rates of depression and anxiety, greater access to doctors via telehealth, or more people resorting to medication as there was a longer waitlist for therapy.6

Lead author, Kao Ping Chau summarized the findings:

Multiple studies suggest that rates of anxiety and depression among female adolescents increased during the pandemic. These studies, coupled with our findings, suggest the pandemic exacerbated a pre-existing mental health crisis in this group.

Emergency Room Visits for Suspected Suicide Attempts Among Young People Increased During the Pandemic

Adolescents and young adults went to the emergency room (ER) in crisis in greater numbers than ever during the pandemic, and crisis visits continue to remain higher than pre-pandemic levels.7 More males went to the ER in early 2021 than in early 2019, which coincides with the finding that high school males reported feeling sad or hopeless more often in 2021 compared to 2019.8

Between Feb. 20, 2021 and March 2021, the mean number of ER visits weekly for suspected suicide attempts was 50.6 percent higher for female adolescents, 5.8 percent higher in female young adults and 3.7 percent higher in male adolescents and then during the same time in 2019.9 Research authors advised that further research be conducted to determine why antidepressant use did not increase in males the way it did in females.10


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