Nearly 4.5 million youths suffer from anxiety – the most common mental illness in the United States. While psychotherapy and pharmaceuticals are often used with success to treat anxiety in children and adolescents, it can be difficult to predict which therapeutic strategies will be effective. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – or SSRIs – often lead to the most success in those with anxiety. Nonetheless, the currently available medications leave up to 40% of youths continuing to experience some of their anxiety symptoms.
The high prevalence of anxiety amongst kids has justified continued research into newer and better ways to treat anxiety and improve quality of life for these youths. A new study, published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, has shed light on how one medication – escitalopram – could help.
For their study, researchers compared the effects of escitalopram – an SSRI – and a placebo on patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The study included 61 kids whose average age was just under 15. THe children and adolescents who received the escitalopram received between 15 and 20 milligrams per day for 8 weeks. The patients were also evaluated before and after treatment on measures of anxiety including the Pediatric Anxiety Rating Scale (PARS) and the Clinical Global Impressions (CGI) scale. Their vital signs and their experience of any adverse events were also assessed.
The results showed that compared to those who received a placebo, those who took escitalopram improved more on the scales of anxiety. Vital signs and adverse events were similar across the two groups.
According to the researchers, these results demonstrate the escitalopram reduces anxiety symptoms. This SSRI can therefore be added to the arsenal of available medications for physicians to help young people with anxiety. Given that certain phenotypes appear to benefit more from certain SSRIs, including escitalopram, this medication may also be able to be specifically targeted to those who are most likely to benefit.
Strawn, J.R. et al. (2020). Escitalopram in adolescents with generalized anxiety disorder: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 81(5), DOI: 10.4088/JCP.20m13396