Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Subscribe to the Magazine for free
Subscribe for free to keep reading! If you are already subscribed, enter your email address to log back in.
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Are you a healthcare practitioner?
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Mental Health and Adolescents: What You and Your Teen Should Know About Common Treatments for Anxiety and Depression

Medically reviewed by 
Mental Health and Adolescents: What You and Your Teen Should Know About Common Treatments for Anxiety and Depression

The teenage years are a period of significant psychological and emotional development, often accompanied by the stress of navigating the transition from childhood to adulthood. This article will discuss anxiety and depression specifically during adolescence.


Understanding Anxiety and Depression in Teenagers

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health challenges faced by adolescents, each affecting teens in their own unique way.

Anxiety in Adolescents

Nearly 1 in 4 adolescents experience anxiety in one form or another, which can manifest in a way that interferes with daily activities. Unlike normal anxiety experienced before a test or a public performance, clinical anxiety is overwhelming and can be paralyzing. Symptoms may include:

  • Persistent worrying that is disproportionate to the situation.
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, and fatigue.
  • Avoidance behavior, where the teen may skip school, social activities, or other triggering situations.
  • Sleep disturbances, including both trouble falling or staying asleep.

Depression in Adolescents

Depression and anxiety are often diagnosed together in teens. Clinical depression goes beyond occasional sadness or mood swings; it is a serious medical condition that impacts how someone feels, thinks, and handles daily activities. Symptoms of depression in adolescents might include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness.
  • Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.
  • Changes in appetite or weight, either increased or decreased.
  • Lack of energy and increased fatigue despite getting enough sleep.
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering information.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, including suicide attempts or self-harm

Addressing the Challenge

A study published in March 2024 studying the dispensing of antidepressants to adolescents from 2016-2022 highlighted a notable shift in the mental health of teens and young adults. Between January 2016 and December 2022, there was a 66.3% increase in the frequency with which these medications were prescribed, with a sharp rise after March 2020, when schools were initially affected by the pandemic.

This increase in medication usage points to more significant mental health hurdles for teens during the pandemic, with increased feelings of isolation, interruptions in daily life, and the general stress of worldwide uncertainty. What’s more, these issues have seemingly affected girls disproportionately more than boys, with girls receiving medical intervention at a nearly 20% higher rate than expected compared to boys the same age.

Understanding how anxiety and depression impact teens is the first step toward addressing and helping our teens deal with these issues. The significant rise in antidepressant dispensing, especially since early 2020, points to how we need better access to effective mental health services for young people. This also raises concerns about how this could affect adolescents in the long term and demonstrates the importance of a well-rounded, integrative approach beyond pharmacologic intervention.

As we explore the medicines used to treat anxiety and depression in young people, it's important to keep in mind that medication is just part of the overall treatment plan. True healing comes from a mix of therapies - not just drugs but also counseling, making positive lifestyle changes, and getting strong support from both family and healthcare professionals.

Common Pharmacologic Interventions for Teen Anxiety and Depression

The decision to use medication as part of a treatment plan for anxiety and depression in teenagers is a significant one that must be approached with careful consideration of the individual’s symptoms, lifestyle, and preferences. Here we will explore the options commonly available, going over how they work, specific benefits, as well as information you should be aware of when starting therapy.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed medications for both anxiety and depression in adolescents and are the recommended first-line agents in anxiety. They work by increasing levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain associated with mood regulation. Common medications include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), and escitalopram (Lexapro).

  • Benefits: SSRIs are generally well-tolerated and have comparatively lower side effects compared to other medications.
  • Considerations: SSRIs can sometimes lead to increased anxiety or agitation during the first few weeks of treatment. This typically goes away within 4-8 weeks, but having a healthcare provider monitor your teen while starting medical therapy is important. Other common side effects include sleep disturbances and nausea, especially when starting or increasing dosages.

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs are similar to SSRIs, in that they increase serotonin levels. However, they also increase norepinephrine, which is another chemical in the brain that has benefits for mood stability and chronic pain. Examples include venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta).

  • Benefits: SNRIs can be effective for patients who haven’t responded to SSRIs. Additionally, they have shown benefit in treating comorbid conditions such as fibromyalgia or chronic pain, along with anxiety and depression.
  • Considerations: SNRIs are very similar to SSRIs in terms of their side effects, but because of the norepinephrine effects, they can also increase blood pressure and cause dry mouth or sweating.


Benzodiazepines can sometimes be used for short-term management of severe anxiety symptoms, such as before a test/procedure or before a stressful activity such as flying. They work by enhancing the effect of a chemical in the body known as GABA, which increases relaxation. Common medications include lorazepam (Ativan), alprazolam (Xanax), and clonazepam (Klonopin). These medications are not given first line and are not typically used for more than a few days in adolescents.

  • Benefits: Benzodiazepines can quickly reduce symptoms of acute anxiety, providing rapid relief in high-stress situations. 
  • Considerations: These medications can cause strong sedation and can become habit-forming, as well as having potentially severe withdrawal symptoms. These medications should only be used for short durations or specific situations under close medical supervision.

The Role of Medication in the Treatment Plan

An important thing to understand is that medications take time to work, and once they’re working, you might not realize it. SSRIs and SNRIs can take up to 8-12 weeks before they are fully working for mood stability. However, these medications can affect your teen’s energy levels within the first week or two. It’s not uncommon for adolescents to not feel any different in their overall mood but suddenly have more energy, which can be a very confusing feeling.

This is why regular monitoring by a healthcare provider is essential to assess the effectiveness of a treatment. Open communication between the teen, their family, and their provider is critical to ensure proper therapy, especially during the first few weeks of medication treatment, when side effects are most pronounced. 

Non-Pharmacological Interventions and Support for Teen Anxiety and Depression

While medication can be a very strong base for treatment, it is important to consider it as simply part of a whole approach that includes counseling, lifestyle modifications, and support systems. For many adolescents, the combination of medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy (IPT) has been shown to be particularly effective in managing symptoms and quality of life.


Both CBT and IPT are highly effective treatments for managing anxiety and depression. They focus on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors while also teaching necessary coping skills to help your teen manage their symptoms in everyday situations. Having someone who is trained and can act as an impartial third party can also be quite helpful in removing any barriers to talking about the issues that an adolescent might have.

  • Benefits: CBT and IPT provide tools to help address and control anxiety or depression long-term without the need for medication. This is even more effective when started early and tailored to the individual's needs. 
  • Considerations: Regular attendance and active participation are essential for success in therapy. Finding a therapist who specializes in adolescent mental health and is someone with whom your teen feels comfortable talking can significantly enhance the therapy’s effectiveness.

Lifestyle Modifications

Additionally, lifestyle changes can significantly impact mental health. Common recommendations include:

Family and Peer Support

Family involvement is vital in treating adolescent anxiety and depression. Education about these conditions can help families provide appropriate support and encourage open communication about mental health. Similarly, group therapy or peer support groups can be beneficial - sharing experiences with others facing similar challenges can reduce feelings of isolation and provide additional coping strategies.

Conclusion: Navigating the Path to Wellness Together

Tackling anxiety and depression in teenagers involves more than just medicine—it also requires other forms of help. It's imperative for families, friends, healthcare workers, and everyone in a teen's life to create a supportive environment. Adolescence is a period full of growth and changes, both exciting and difficult. When teens face anxiety and depression during these years, they need an approach to care that's considerate and informed, one that truly understands how deep and personal these issues are.


Key Takeaways:

  1. Integrative Approach - Effective treatment for a teen’s anxiety and depression often requires a combination of pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions. Each adolescent’s treatment plan should be as unique as they are, tailored to their specific needs, preferences, and life circumstances.
  2. Evidence-Based Medications - SSRIs and SNRIs are the two most common interventions for pharmacological treatment, offering hope and relief for many teenagers grappling with mental health challenges. Yet it’s vital to approach these medications with a clear understanding of their benefits and potential side effects, ensuring ongoing monitoring and adjustments as necessary. 
  3. Therapy - Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) offer valuable tools for managing anxiety and depression, equipping teens with strategies to manage their mental health both now and in the future.
  4. Support Systems - The role of family, peer, and group therapy cannot be overstated. A supportive community can significantly enhance the effectiveness of treatment and provide a safe network for the teen to rely on.
  5. Lifestyle Considerations - Simple lifestyle modifications, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and stress management techniques, can profoundly impact mental well-being.
The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
Learn More
No items found.

Lab Tests in This Article

No items found.

KOWALCHUK A, GONZALEZ S, ZOOROB R. Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents. American Family Physician. 2022;106(6):657-664.

Chua KP, Volerman A, Zhang J, Hua J, Conti RM. Antidepressant Dispensing to US Adolescents and Young Adults: 2016–2022. Pediatrics. 2024;153(3). doi:

Mayo Clinic. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). Mayo Clinic. Published September 17, 2019.

Walter HJ, Bukstein OG, Abright AR, et al. Clinical practice guideline for the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with anxiety disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2020;59(10):1107-1124. doi:

Mayo Clinic. Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Mayo Clinic. Published October 5, 2019.

Cleveland Clinic. Benzodiazepines: What They Are, Uses, Side Effects & Risks. Cleveland Clinic. Published March 1, 2023.

Wehry AM, Beesdo-Baum K, Hennelly MM, Connolly SD, Strawn JR. Assessment and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents. Current Psychiatry Reports. 2015;17(7). doi:

Walkup J, Strawn J, Gupta E. Parents’ Medication Guide. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; 2020.

Pegg S, Hill K, Argiros A, Olatunji BO, Kujawa A. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety Disorders in Youth: Efficacy, Moderators, and New Advances in Predicting Outcomes. Current Psychiatry Reports. 2022;24(12). doi:

Lemmens LHJM, van Bronswijk SC, Peeters FPML, et al. Interpersonal Psychotherapy Versus Cognitive Therapy for Depression: How They Work, How Long, and for Whom—Key Findings From an RCT. American Journal of Psychotherapy. 2020;73(1):8-14. doi:

Five Ways to Get Active and Stay Healthy from Home! | Health Equity Features | CDC. Published May 11, 2020.

ADAA. Exercise for Stress and Anxiety | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. Published 2000.

Harvard Health Publishing. Sleep and mental health. Harvard Health. Published August 17, 2021.

Mayo Clinic Staff. Meditation: a Simple, Fast Way to Reduce Stress. Mayo Clinic. Published April 29, 2022.

Kaslow NJ, Broth MR, Smith CO, Collins MH. Family-Based Interventions for Child and Adolescent Disorders. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 2012;38(1):82-100. doi:

Cloyd K. An Integrative Medicine Approach to Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in Adolescents. Rupa Health. Published October 2, 2023.

Teeter L. Natural Remedies for Anxiety & Depression. Rupa Health. Published April 27, 2023.

Cloyd J. An Integrative Medicine Approach to Childhood Depression. Rupa Health. Published November 13, 2023. Accessed April 24, 2024.

Blake K. The Top 6 Integrative Therapy Options for Behavioral Health. Rupa Health. Published September 11, 2023.

Maholy N. How to reduce stress through mind-body therapies. Rupa Health. Published April 14, 2023.

Weinberg J. The Science of Sleep: Functional Medicine for Restorative Sleep. Rupa Health. Published December 19, 2023.

Subscribe to the Magazine for free to keep reading!
Subscribe for free to keep reading, If you are already subscribed, enter your email address to log back in.
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Are you a healthcare practitioner?
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.