Other recent research has found antidepressants double the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions in adults.
A new study adds fresh evidence that treatment for depression with antidepressants increases the risk of suicidal behavior, including attempted and completed suicides, in children and young adults under age 25. The findings support previous studies that have also found a greater risk of suicidal thoughts and actions in young people taking antidepressants – drugs that are prescribed to reduce that risk.
“The present study finds similar results to prior observational research – that is, consistent evidence of an increased risk of suicidality during treatment with SSRIs in children and adolescents,” wrote lead author Tyra Lagerberg, at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and the psychiatry department at Oxford University’s Warneford Hospital in the U.K. The study was published in Neuropsychopharmacology.
Lagerberg led a team of Swedish researchers who used medical and death registry records of roughly 162,000 depressed individuals from 2006-2018 to find the risk of suicidal behavior within 12 weeks after the patients either were or were not started on selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants following a diagnosis of depression. Overall, the study revealed an increased risk of suicidal behavior among the antidepressant users.
The greatest increase in risk was to youth 6 to 17 years of age, who were three times more likely to engage in suicidal behavior, followed by 18- to 24-year-olds, whose risk was doubled.
“Our results confirm that children and adolescents under age 25 are a high-risk group, in particular children aged under 18 years,” Lagerberg concluded.
While this study did not find an increased risk of suicidal behavior from antidepressants in older patients or patients who previously attempted suicide, it did find that taking the drugs did not reduce the risk for these groups.
“The present study finds similar results to prior observational research – that is, consistent evidence of an increased risk of suicidality during treatment with SSRIs in children and adolescents.”
— Tyra Lagerberg, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
The research confirms the validity of the stringent, black-box warning first required in 2004 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on antidepressant packaging to alert consumers and prescribers to the increased risk of suicidal thoughts and actions for children and adolescents. The action came after drug trials indicated that youth taking antidepressants were almost twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts as those receiving placebos. The warning was expanded in 2007 to include young adults through age 24.
Critics have since complained that the warning resulted in more suicides by youngsters not treated with antidepressants. However, researchers recently re-analyzed clinical trial data and concluded that the data demonstrated an increased risk of attempted and completed suicides among youth taking antidepressants and that the FDA’s warning is clearly justified.
Other recent research has found antidepressants double the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions in adults. A re-analysis of safety summaries submitted to the FDA for approval of antidepressants found that the rate of suicide attempts in drug trials was about 2.5 times higher in adults taking antidepressants as compared to those given placebos.
Another study found that when healthy adults with no signs of depression were given antidepressants, their risk of suicidality and violence doubled.
Antidepressants may be prescribed to prevent suicides, but a recent examination of coroner inquests in which the decedents used antidepressants revealed that about half of the deaths were determined to be suicides. One in eight of the deaths involved an overdose of antidepressants.
More fundamentally, a landmark 2022 study questioned the prescribing of antidepressants at all, after finding the common reason for taking them – to correct a chemical imbalance in the brain – had no scientific basis. The study investigated whether evidence supported the theory that a low level of the brain chemical serotonin causes depression.
“The serotonin theory of depression has been one of the most influential and extensively researched biological theories of the origins of depression,” the researchers wrote. “Our study shows that this view is not supported by scientific evidence. It also calls into question the basis for the use of antidepressants.”
WARNING: Anyone wishing to discontinue or change the dose of an antidepressant or other psychiatric drug is cautioned to do so only under the supervision of a physician because of potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) continues to raise public awareness of the risks of serious side effects and withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs, so that consumers and their physicians can make fully informed decisions about starting or stopping the drugs.
CCHR also recommends a complete physical examination with lab tests, nutritional and allergy screenings, and a review of all current medications to identify any physical causes of depression or other unwanted mental and behavioral symptoms, which might otherwise be misdiagnosed and incorrectly treated as a psychiatric disorder.