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Suicide Risk in Children Taking Antidepressants May Be Exaggerated

New research is shedding light on the ongoing controversy over whether antidepressant medications help depressed children and adolescents—and how the benefits compare to the risk of suicidal impulses and attempts, reports the June issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.

Researchers examined data from placebo-controlled clinical trials involving 11 different drugs. Of more than 4,500 patients in 24 trials, none committed suicide. When all the studies were combined, patients taking the drugs showed slightly more suicidal tendencies.

Information is still coming in from pharmaceutical companies. For example, the maker of the antidepressant paroxetine (Paxil) recently reported that it found a link between this drug and suicidal behavior in adults. But clinicians and patients probably should respond cautiously to this news.

“It’s always hard to judge when an impulse is genuinely suicidal, and records from clinical trials make it more difficult, because the information is often incomplete. We need better research to know whether the small statistical differences are significant in practice,” says Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.

While the use of antidepressants increased in the 1990s, the suicide rate among adolescents declined—coincidentally or not—by 31%. And recent autopsy studies have shown that adolescents who commit suicide, even when they have a prescription for an antidepressant, are usually not taking the drug at the time of death. A consensus seems to be emerging that the risk of suicide in children and adolescents taking antidepressants may have been exaggerated, says the Harvard Mental Health Letter.

For people of any age, the risk of leaving depression untreated may be greater than the risk of taking antidepressants. The best defense against side effects, including suicidal thoughts, is staying alert to the risks and consulting regularly with a physician.

Also in this issue:
Borderline personality disorder
• Gays’ mental health
• Variations in schizophrenia by place and population
• Predicting a lasting marriage
• Body size and suicide
• Placebos: Some better than others
• A doctor discusses: When the unconscious knows best

The Harvard Mental Health Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $59 per year. Subscribe at or by calling 1-877-649-9457 (toll free).

Source: Harvard Mental Health Letter

Contact Information:
Harvard Health Publications
Contact: Christine Junge
[email protected]

Suicide Risk in Children Taking Antidepressants May Be Exaggerated

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Suicide Risk in Children Taking Antidepressants May Be Exaggerated. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 23, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.