Most Common Anxiety and Depression Drugs for Adolescents Are Ineffective

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July 21, 2016 | 44,831 views

Story at-a-glance

  • Thirteen out of 14 antidepressants studied did not work to relieve the symptoms of depression in children and teens
  • The antidepressant venlafaxine (brand name Effexor) increased the risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts in the youth compared to placebo and five other antidepressants
  • In the included video, people across the globe share their stories about how benzodiazepine anxiety drugs, taken as prescribed, led to serious side effects and harm

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.

Disturbing Stories of Anxiety Drug Side Effects

Optimize Your Gut Flora

Your gut and brain work in tandem, each influencing the other. This is why your intestinal health can have such a profound influence on your mental health and vice versa. It's also the reason why your diet is so closely linked to your mental health.

Prior research has shown that the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus had a marked effect on GABA levels in certain brain regions and lowered the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety- and depression-related behavior.14 The probiotic known as Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 has also been shown to normalize anxiety-like behavior in mice with infectious colitis.15

So optimizing your gut flora with beneficial bacteria is a highly useful strategy. This is done by eliminating sugars and processed foods and eating plenty of non-starchy vegetables, avoiding processed vegetable oils and eating healthy fats. Additionally, eating plenty of fermented vegetables or taking a high-potency probiotic would be useful to reestablish a healthy gut flora.

Omega-3 Fats

Your diet should include a high-quality source of animal-based omega-3 fats like krill oil. The omega-3 fats EPA and DHA play an important role in your emotional well-being, and research has shown a dramatic 20 percent reduction in anxiety among med students taking omega-3s.16

Dr. Andrew L. Stoll, a psychiatrist and director of the Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory at Harvard University, was one of the early leaders in compiling the evidence supporting the use of animal based omega-3 fats for the treatment of depression. He wrote an excellent book that details his experience in this area called "The Omega-3 Connection."

Vitamin D

Optimize your vitamin D levels, ideally through regular sun exposure. Vitamin D is very important for your mood. In one study, people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were found to be 11 times more prone to depression than those who had normal levels.17

The best way to get vitamin D is through sun exposure and, to a lesser degree, foods such as salmon and tuna, fish liver oils and eggs. A vitamin D3 supplement can also be used, but you'll need to monitor your levels regularly. To reap maximum benefit, you need a vitamin D level of at least 40 to 60 ng/ml.

Lower Your Intake of Sugar and Processed Foods

In addition to being high in sugar and grains, processed foods also contain a variety of additives that can affect your brain function and mental state, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and artificial sweeteners. There's a great book on this subject, "Sugar Blues," written by the late American activist, writer and musician, William Dufty, that delves into the topic of sugar and mental health in great detail.


Get adequate amounts of sleep. You can have the best diet and exercise program possible, but if you aren't sleeping well you can easily become depressed. Sleep and depression are so intimately linked that a sleep disorder is actually part of the definition of the symptom complex that gives the label depression.

Anxiety drugs are also often prescribed for sleep troubles. I suggest first reading my Guide to a Good Night's Sleep for 33 simple tips on improving your sleep. Small adjustments to your daily routine and sleeping area can go a long way to ensure uninterrupted, restful sleep (which may further help with anxiety symptoms, as well).

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1, 3 The Lancet June 7, 2016
  • 2 JAMA. 2010;303(1):47-53.
  • 4 The Lancet June 8, 2016
  • 5 Science Alert July 7, 2016
  • 6 U.S. Food and Drug Administration May 2, 2007
  • 7 Pharmacogenomics and Personalized Medicine July 29, 2011
  • 8 European Neuropsychopharmacology February 8, 2016
  • 9 BBC News March 8, 2016
  • 10 American Journal of Public Health February 18, 2016
  • 11 Current Opinion in Psychiatry 2005, 18:249-255
  • 12 Lissa Rankin April 15, 2013
  • 13 J Nerv Ment Dis October 2012
  • 14 Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Sep 20;108(38):16050-5.
  • 15 Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2011 Dec;23(12):1132-9.
  • 16 Brain Behav Immun. 2011 Nov;25(8):1725-34.
  • 17 American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry December 2006; 14(12): 1032-1040