Most people think of depression as an adult disease, and for the most part it is. Childhood depression is relatively rare compared to adults. However, child and teen depression cases have been steadily increasing. As a result, the number of prescriptions written for antidepressants for children and teenagers has also been increasing. While these medications are generally safe, and able to effectively treat what has the potential to be a devastating condition if left untreated, sometimes the antidepressants make depression worse.
A recent study was published in the British Medical Journal was published in January of 2016, that looked at the instance of increased suicidality and aggression in patients being treated for depression with antidepressant medications. The study included both adults and children under the age of 18. The findings were differentiated based on the age groups.
While much of the media has focused on the increased risk associated with antidepressants, according to a review from the National Library of Medicine the biggest risk was to individuals under the age of 18. Yet, this is not the finding that most concerned the researchers who published the paper.
Researchers were far more concerned with the disturbing lack of data with which they were able to work. Researchers explained that many of the studies they examined were not clearly reporting problems or were misclassifying them entirely. This makes the actual risk of using antidepressants, whether for adults or children, still in question. While there are clear indications that a portion of children do show an increase in suicidal thoughts and aggression, it may be far more endemic than the study was able to discover.
They went so far to say that these types of medications should be minimally used, and other treatments should be thoroughly explored first. This is in line with what the FDA has been recommending since 2004; however, use of antidepressants in children and adolescents is still prevalent with many parents being unaware of the potential risks — a prime opportunity for pharmacists to step in and help educate.
The media coverage of this journal publications has renewed interest in the topic, and many people may begin to ask for more information about the potential negative side effects antidepressants may have on their children. Be prepared for these questions, and have resources to the scientific articles and reviews available for parents that have questions.
When providing this information, it is important to stress that parents should talk to the mental healthcare provider that originally diagnosed the depression and prescribed the antidepressants. Further, it is important that parents and other patients who are currently taking antidepressants be made fully aware of the potentially disastrous results that quickly coming off of those medications can cause. Without the balance of the new study results, and the negative impact of discontinuing treatment without professional guidance, the headlines may result in parents making uninformed and dangerous decisions for their children.