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How to Manage Depression and Your Child’s Exposure to Movie Violence

How to Manage Depression and Your Child’s Exposure to Movie Violence

Keep your family informed with these tips from our experts.

Q: I’m taking the serotonin-reuptake inhibitor sertraline (Zoloft) for depression—I feel so much better!—and I assumed it was okay to keep taking my vitamins. But are there supplements I should watch out for? — Cecilia H., Ossining, NY

A: Congrats on taking charge of your depression and feeling better. Yes, there are certain supplements that interfere with selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)—and with serotonin and noradrenalin reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) too.

Serotonin is a neuro-transmitter found in your gut, your blood and your nervous system. It’s considered a natural mood stabilizer. You probably weren’t getting the right balance and the sertraline has helped you re-establish that! Since we don’t know your exact dosage or the supplements you are taking, we can’t directly answer your question. You should talk to your doctor about all the supplements and herbal preparations you may be using. When you do, here are some specifics to discuss:

Ask your doc about the risks of taking St. John's wort, garcinia cambogia, L-tryptophan (or 5-HTP) and SAMe (S-adenosyl-methionine) supplements with your antidepressant. Consumer Labs says they can increase your risk of experiencing serotonin syndrome. That’s when there’s an overabundance of serotonin in your system that triggers everything from goose bumps and shivering to muscle rigidity, diarrhea and heavy sweating. (If that happens, do not ever abruptly stop taking your SSRI or SNRI!)

Also ask about the potential benefits of these supplements: A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that omega-3 fish oil (specifically EPA) in combo with SSRIs caused a significant reduction in depressive symptoms. It was also true to a lesser extent for vitamin D and methylfolate, a form of folic acid.

Q: I was on a plane and the person next to me was watching one of the latest action movies. I won’t single it out, but it was non-stop violence—and rated PG-13! How can this not negatively affect impressionable youngsters? — Jesse J., Sioux Falls, SD

A: The motion picture industry has eroded standards so that the PG-13 rating (Parents strongly cautioned . . . for children under 13) means next to nothing. The Harvard School of Public Health warned that a “ratings creep” (it’s a voluntary system) has allowed more violent and sexually explicit content into films that are seen by young teens. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that gun violence in PG-13-rated films has more than tripled since 1985. And public health and mental health experts agree that non-stop violence in films (and on TV and in video games) can make kids more aggressive and damage their emotional development. So our advice to parents:

1. Do diligent research when your teen wants to see a movie. Find out how much and what type of violence a film contains, and check out Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org). In their Parents’ Guide, they give ratings for positive messages, positive role models, sex, violence, language, drinking, drugs and smoking, and a review.

Here’s a partial review of the Cohen brothers adaptation of the western True Grit—rated PG-13. Common Sense gave it an age 15+. They say: “impressive and forceful, but it’s also full of brutal (and sometimes bloody) gunfight sequences and other violent moments that aren’t appropriate for younger viewers … mature teens are likely to feel a kinship with the lead character, 14-year-old Mattie Ross…They might even learn from her adventure … lessons … dealing with loyalty, courage, and determination.”

2. Ask around and find out what other parents have to say. If you’re not sure about the content, watch the movie first or with your youngster.

3. Talk to your kids about violence in the media. Help them evaluate what is gratuitous and when to reject its message. And remember, if teens want to see a movie, with all the streaming available these days, chances are they will, even if you say no. So be proactive and help them avoid the violence that’s out there.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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