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Antidepressant Warnings & Teen Suicide Attempts

Overreaction to FDA warning may have led to undertreatment of depression, experts say
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This decrease may have left many depressed young people without appropriate treatment. That in turn may have driven an increase in suicide attempts, Lu noted. The study didn't find an increase in completed suicides for any age group.

Coverage of the warning may have had unintended consequences, Lu said. Doctors may have been less willing to prescribe antidepressants and parents may have been fearful of letting their children take them, she said.

The lesson, Lu said, is that the media and the FDA should strive for the right balance so potential overreactions don't occur.

Lu noted that over time people have become less reluctant to use these drugs.

The FDA now recommends that doctors consider both the risk of prescribing an antidepressant and the risk of not prescribing the drug. Doctors should also monitor patients for suicidal thoughts.

Undertreating depression is worse than the slight increase in suicidal thoughts antidepressants may cause, Lu said. "It's also a reminder for doctors to weigh the risk of a drug with the risk of not treating or undertreating the condition," she said.

For the study, Lu and colleagues used the Mental Health Research Network to collect medical claims data from 11 U.S. health plans from 2000 to 2010. This database includes records for 1.1 million teens, 1.4 million young adults and 5 million adults.

To measure suicide attempts, the researchers used records of overdose with mind-altering drugs, such as marijuana, amphetamines, tranquilizers and Ecstasy.

They found that suicide attempts rose 21.7 percent among teens and 33.7 percent among young adults.

The report was published June 18 in BMJ online.

Tony Tang, an adjunct professor in the department of psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., said, "The article addresses a possible blind spot in the thinking of the general public."

Although some antidepressants might increase suicidal thoughts, they also prevent some suicides just by alleviating depression, he said.

"It is fashionable to believe the worst about everything not natural or organic. In this atmosphere, perhaps the general public has overlooked the suicide prevention benefits of antidepressants," Tang said.

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