Antidepressant Dispensing to Adolescents and Young Adults Surges During Pandemic

The dispensing of antidepressants to adolescents and young adults surged significantly following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among females. (1 Trusted Source
Antidepressant Dispensing to U.S. Adolescents and Young Adults: 2016-2022

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Antidepressant Dispensing Among Adolescents and Young Adults

“Antidepressant dispensing to adolescents and young adults was already high and rising before March 2020. Our findings suggest these trends accelerated during the pandemic,” said lead author Kao Ping Chua, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatrician and researcher at University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and the Susan B. Meister Child Health Evaluation and Research Center.

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Although an increasing number of individuals aged 12 to 25 were already receiving antidepressants before the pandemic, the rate of antidepressant dispensing rose nearly 64% faster after March 2020.

Researchers analyzed data from a national database reporting 92% of prescriptions dispensed in U.S. pharmacies. They found that the increase in the antidepressant dispensing rate during the pandemic was driven by females.

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

In contrast to females, the antidepressant dispensing rate changed little among male young adults after March 2020 and declined among male adolescents, which Chua found surprising.

“It’s hard to believe this decline reflects improved mental health,” he said.

He believes a more likely explanation is that male adolescents may have skipped physicals and other health care visits during the pandemic, decreasing opportunities to diagnose and treat anxiety and depression.

The transition away from in-person learning, he notes, may have also decreased opportunities for teachers and other school staff to detect mental health problems in male adolescents.


Chua said the overall rise in antidepressant dispensing to adolescents and young adults may not only be related to worsened mental health. Long waitlists for psychotherapy, for example, may have also played a role.

“In my primary care clinic, I often heard from patients and families that they were facing 6-9 month wait lists for therapy during the pandemic. In those situations, it didn’t make sense to withhold antidepressants and recommend a therapy-only approach,” he said.


Further studies, Chua says, should identify which interventions can best promote the mental health of adolescents and young adults.


  1. Antidepressant Dispensing to U.S. Adolescents and Young Adults: 2016-2022 – (


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