CHICAGO (AP) — 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 for young people who take antidepressants. Some
parents have already taken their children off the drugs.

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 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.

“It’s a real process and a matter of educating
yourself as a parent,” says Cheryl Murphy, who is
Shauna’s mom 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, who’s 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 website.

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 and
medication side-effects. They expect to have it done in the next
few months.

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

“If a child comes in with symptoms A, B and C, the
symptoms should, at worst, not get worse — and, at best, they
should start to get better. If not, they’re on the wrong
medication,” says Rich Macur Brousil, director of child and
adolescent behavioral health at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Chicago.

If medication is deemed necessary, he says children should be
started on the lowest dose to see how they respond. He and other
mental health professionals also strongly recommend that any
psychiatric medication be used in combination with counseling.

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.

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