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Did the FDA’s Antidepressant Warnings for Teens Raise the Suicide Rate?

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Antidepressant Warnings for Teens May Have Backfired

Several years ago, experts started warning of a possible side effect of antidepressants in teens–that they could increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.  However, according to a new study the warning may have pushed the problem too far in the other direction–not enough teens who legitimately could benefit from antidepressants are getting them and they are  becoming suicidal from their untreated depression.  In fact, research shows that following the FDA’s warnings and media coverage in 2003-2004, use of antidepressants among teens dropped sharply.  The recent study is the first to link the warnings during that time period and increased suicide rates among teens.

Teen Suicides Rise as Use of Antidepressants Drops

In the study, published in the British Journal of Medicine, researchers looked at the insurance records of 7.5 million people ages 15 to 64 for several years before the FDA warning was made public.  Prior to the warning, the percentage of use among varying ages groups included 2% of teens and 4% of adults.  After the warning was issued, the numbers plummeted 31% in teens, 24% in young adults and 14.5% in adults not even affected by the warnings.  Simultaneously, the percentages of suicide among teens increased during that time period to 21.7% of teens and 33.7% for young adults.

Study Emphasizes Importance of Balancing Risks of Drugs With Necessity of Treatment

Some psychiatrists, such as Dr. David Brent at the University of Pittsburgh, say that the study results show that the benefits of antidepressants in most teens outweighs the risks.  Although it’s true that some teens will be the exception to that rule, Dr. Brent says that clinical studies show antidepressants are 11 times more likely to help a young person with depression than to trigger suicidal thoughts or actions.  And yet, the linkage between suicidal thoughts and actions and antidepressant use in teens is still unclear.  Some speculate that antidepressants may help already depressed teens to gain the energy they need to carry out their preexisting suicidal plans.  Others suggest that the side effects of medication may spur teens to suicidal thoughts and actions.  Whatever the mechanisms behind suicidal thoughts and actions in teens, the research is clear that medical professionals should strike a balance between prescribing antidepressants and keeping a close eye on young people taking such medications.