Antidepressant Use Rose Dramatically During COVID-19 Pandemic Among Female Adolescents

Feb. 27, 2024
Curiously, antidepressant prescriptions dropped for males in the same cohort during the pandemic

A new study found that antidepressant prescriptions among female adolescents aged 12 to 17 years and female young adults aged 18 to 25 years increased precipitously after the COVID-19 pandemic began.

There was a 130% increase in prescriptions among 12 to 17 year old females and nearly a 60% increase in 18 to 25 year old females. Kao-Ping Chua, MD, PhD, and first study author, states that these findings align with previous studies that suggested “rates of anxiety and depression among female adolescents increased during the pandemic.”

The study, published in Pediatrics on Feb. 26, took a look at prescriptions “dispensed to US individuals aged 12 to 25 years from 2016 to 2022 and included in the IQVIA Longitudinal Prescription Database,” a database which covers “92% of the prescriptions dispensed in US pharmacies.”

Monthly prescription rate was already on the rise prepandemic, increasing at around a 17% rate from month to month from January 2016 to March 2020. However, beginning in March 2020, “the authors found an increase of 10.8% per month for prescriptions.” Indeed, the authors noted the dispensing rate increased 63.5% faster “from March 2020 onwards compared with beforehand.”

However, despite the aforementioned increase in rates among female adolescents and young adults, prescribing rates for males in the same age cohorts actually dropped after the pandemic began. Before the pandemic, prescriptions rates for males were “increasing steadily at 8.7% per month, but the pandemic was associated with a decrease in prescriptions.”

Experts suggest that the difference in prescription rates between males and females could simply be down to cultural norms, which “often suggest girls toward expressing internalizing behaviors such as anxiety and depression, whereas boys may exhibit more externalizing behaviors such as antisocial actions and substance abuse” when it comes to “expressions of emotional distress.”

CIDRAP’s website has the news release.