According to a new study, antidepressants have been linked to suicide in teens. Children and teens who take high doses of antidepressants are more likely to have suicidal thoughts or actually attempt suicide than those who take doses of a lesser strength.
Researchers of the study, published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, concluded that people between the ages of 10 and 24 who began taking antidepressants in high dosages were twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts or to attempt suicide within the first 90 days of treatment than those who began taking antidepressants in lesser dosages. Researchers explain these findings by saying they equate to approximately one additional episode of suicidal behavior for every 150 patients who take high doses of antidepressants.
Matthew Miller, the study’s lead author said there is no evidence to support taking higher doses of antidepressants compared to lower doses. In fact, he says higher doses may only add risk to the patient’s health and well-being. Although not involved in the study, Dr. David Brent with the University of Pittsburgh concurs with Miller saying evidence does not exist to support higher doses of antidepressants.
For the study, researchers reviewed health records gathered from 1998 to 2010. The records were for 162,625 privately insured people between the ages of 10 and 64 who were treated for depression with three popular antidepressants, Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa. Some of these patients started taking normal doses of antidepressants, while others started at higher doses based on the severity of their depression symptoms, previous episodes of self-harm and other factors. Approximately 18 percent of patients 10 to 24 years of age were prescribed higher doses of antidepressants.
Researchers were quick to notice that the higher doses of antidepressants affected patients who were 10 to 24 years of age; however, they did not come to the same conclusion for people who were over the age of 24. The number of people who hurt themselves was 142 out of 21,305, and the risk was calculated at 1.4 percent for those who took normal doses of antidepressants and at 3.1 percent for those who took higher doses. Researchers are unsure why antidepressants have such a negative effect on suicidal behavior in young people. However, they suspect that it may simply be that their young age makes them more susceptible to the negative side effects of the antidepressants.
The link between antidepressants and suicide in teens is an important finding because according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death in people between the ages of 10 and 24. In fact, there are 157,000 people across the United States within that age group who require emergency medical assistance every year for injuries resulting from attempted suicide.
CDC statistics show that antidepressants are prescribed to 3.7 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 17 and 6.1 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 39. The study supports guidelines that say antidepressants should be started at low doses according to Brent. In addition, The National Institute of Mental Health said the benefits of antidepressant medications are likely to outweigh the risks to children and teens who suffer from major depression; however, another study has shown the most effective treatment to be a combination of medication and psychotherapy.
The study proves that there is a link between antidepressants and suicide in young children and teens, and while those in the medical community search for ways to reduce suicide risk, Brent says there simply is no one right thing to do. However, it is the physician’s duty to discuss and fully explain the risks and benefits of antidepressants to each family so they can then make a decision that they believe to be in the best interest of their child.
By Donna W. Martin