By Dr. Mercola
Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression can be devastating to adolescents, who are already going through one of the most emotionally turbulent life stages.
It's understandable why well-meaning parents would turn to prescription medications in an attempt to give their child some relief, especially since such drugs are heavily promoted and often used as a first-line treatment by psychiatrists and other doctors.
However, many are not aware, nor do their doctors tell them, that such drugs often do not work, particularly in children and teens. Worse yet, youth who take antidepressant medications may be at increased risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
13 of 14 Antidepressants Tested Did Not Relieve Depressive Symptoms
Oxford University researchers analyzed results of 34 clinical trials that involved more than 5,000 children with depression (aged from 9 to 18 years).1 The children took 1 of 14 antidepressants for an average period of eight weeks.
The majority of them (13) did not work to relieve the symptoms of depression, and the one that did — fluoxetine (Prozac) — has previously been linked to severe homicidal akathisia.
And for the record, previous research has found the benefit of antidepressants including Prozac "may be minimal or nonexistent, on average, in patients with mild or moderate symptoms."2
Akathisia is a condition of motor restlessness, marked by anxiety, agitation, jitteriness (or the sensation of "jumping out of one's skin") and the inability to sit quietly or sleep.
The akathisia issue first came into public view shortly after Prozac entered the marketplace in the mid-1980s, when reports of murder and suicide among patients taking Prozac were publicized by the media.
Since then, there have been thousands of reports of violent behavior by individuals taking antidepressant drugs.
In addition, the featured study found the antidepressant venlafaxine (brand name Effexor) increased the risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts in the youth compared to placebo and five other antidepressants. The researchers concluded:3
"When considering the risk-benefit profile of antidepressants in the acute treatment of major depressive disorder, these drugs do not seem to offer a clear advantage for children and adolescents."
'Disturbing Implications for Clinical Practice'
In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Jon Jureidini, an Australian child psychiatrist at the University of Adelaide in South Australia, noted that the study has "disturbing implications for clinical practice."4
Such medications should be prescribed only "if the discounted benefit outweighs the boosted harm," he stated, continuing, "For antidepressants in adolescents, this equation will rarely favor prescribing; in younger children, almost never."5
Antidepressants' link to suicidal tendencies is not new. In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a black-box warning on antidepressants indicating they were associated with an increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in young people.
In 2007, the FDA directed manufacturers to update the warning to include increased risks of suicidal thinking and behavior, known as suicidality, in young adults ages 18 to 24 during initial treatment (generally the first one to two months).6
Research published in Pharmacogenomics and Personalized Medicine even revealed that a genetic mutation in the CYP450 gene family may cause a metabolic disturbance resulting in uncontrollable violent impulses and behaviors, including suicide, in some individuals taking these drugs.7
For about two years following the FDA's initial 2004 warning, substantial reductions in antidepressant use were observed among youth, but it was unknown whether those reductions had continued.
Antidepressant Prescriptions Among Youth Surged in Recent Years
Unfortunately, research published in European Neuropsychopharmacology showed that not only did antidepressant use continue after the FDA warnings, but it also markedly increased.8
The study revealed significant increases in antidepressant prescriptions to youth in five Western countries included in the study. In Denmark, for instance, there was a 60 percent increase in youth antidepressant prescriptions from 2005 to 2012.
The rate increased 54 percent in the U.K., 49 percent in Germany, 26 percent in the U.S. and 17 percent in the Netherlands during the same period.9
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) clinical guidelines state antidepressants should not be offered as a first-line treatment for symptoms of mild depression in children.
And even when they're prescribed for more serious cases, it's supposed to be along with psychological therapy. Unfortunately, this doesn't appear to be what's happening in clinical practice.