Antidepressant dispensing to adolescents and young adults increased sharply after the COVID-19 pandemic began, particularly among women, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that while a growing number of young people ages 12 to 25 were receiving antidepressants before the pandemic, the antidepressant dispensing rate rose nearly 64% faster after March 2020.

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

The researchers analyzed data from a national database reporting 92% of prescriptions dispensed in US pharmacies. They found that the increase in the antidepressant dispensing rate during the pandemic was driven by women.

After March 2020, this rate increased 130% faster among female adolescents ages 12-17 years and 60% faster among female young adults ages 18-25 years.

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

In contrast to female young adults, 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 says.

A more likely explanation, he says, 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.

Read the full article about antidepressant prescriptions by Beata Mostafavi at Futurity.